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Summary:

Globally, mobile broadband subscriptions are set to double in 2011, up to 1 billion from 500 million last year. This growth rate is increasing and it corresponds very highly to another growth rate: that of smartphone sales, which recently jumped 93 percent per year.

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Updated. The world will see one billion mobile broadband subscribers this year, doubling from the 500 million mobile web users in 2010, according to Ericsson, a provider of global telecom equipment. An increasing rate of smartphone adoption is the key driver, although connected laptops, tablets, USB data sticks and mobile hotspots will also add to the mobile subscriber numbers to a lesser extent. By the end of 2011, Ericsson estimates 400 million mobile broadband subscribers will be from the Asia-Pacific region, while Western Europe and North America will follow with 200 million each.

Indeed, one can see the growth effects that smartphone adoption is having on mobile broadband subscriptions by looking backward in time:

  • In 1998, long before the smartphone, global mobile subscribers — I wouldn’t call it broadband back then — numbered a scant 57,200 says Om, who was covering the nascent market at the time. Given slow networks, limited infrastructure and high costs, this number isn’t surprising.
  • It took until 2008 to hit 400 million mobile broadband subscribers, and much of that growth came from the early rise of the smartphone, which early adopters began to use in the mid-2000s.
  • From 2008 to 2010, mobile data subscriptions jumped another 25 percent, reaching an estimated 500 million. That’s no coincidence, since smartphones running iOS, Android, Symbian, BlackBerry and other mobile platforms are all on the rise as compared to less-connected feature phones.

While this little history lesson illustrates where growth is coming from, one other key point emphasizes it even better: In November, research firm Gartner estimated a 93 percent year-over-year increase in smartphone sales in the third quarter of 2010, a figure that’s likely to keep increasing until market saturation hits. With the number of smartphones sold nearly doubling as compared to a year ago, it only makes sense that mobile broadband subscribers should follow suit, provided 3G and 4G network operators are prepared to handle the growing demand for data on hot new smartphones.

One last point puts the growth of mobile broadband in perspective. Even as Ericsson today put forth the billion subscriber estimate for mobiles, In-Stat this morning announced its estimate for global wired broadband users at 763 million in 2010. Although the definition of broadband may vary, as will subscriber estimates, by the end of this year, it’s possible that mobile web subscribers will outnumber wired broadband users for the first time ever!

Update: In-Stat commented on our original story, saying its estimate includes wired and wireless subscribers with varying definition on wireless broadband. For another datapoint, I turned to the Broadband Forum, which last week announced 508.7 million wired broadband subscribers globally at the end of the third quarter 2010. Given the likelihood that wired subscriptions would have grown, wired and wireless broadband subscribers are probably neck-and-neck right now, with mobile growing faster.

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  1. Tweets that mention In 2011 Mobile Broadband Will Surpass Wired Broadband : Broadband News and Analysis « — Topsy.com Tuesday, January 11, 2011

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  2. With the world’s most advanced mobile operating system (iOS) now available on the largest mobile carrier (Verizon) in the U.S. look for mobile broadband to explode with Apple superphone goodness. And with plenty of cheap plastic android phones for the second tier players no doubt that mobile broadband usage will greatly increase.

  3. Hey Kevin,
    Thanks for the article. Just a slight correction that In-Stat’s 763 million broadband subscribers includes mobile as well, and is not just wired. However, our definition of what constitutes a mobile broadband subscriber is more strict as some requirements include a data plan and a smartphone/laptop/tablet device.
    Thanks!
    Vahid

  4. Link – Estadao.com.br Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    [...] ainda esse ano na média mundial, atingindo quase o dobro dos 500 milhões de usuários em 2010. Os números foram divulgados pela Ericsson, que estima que as regiões que mais colaborarão com assinaturas de banda larga celular são a [...]

  5. Virgin Mobile Unlimited Plan Not So Unlimited Anymore: Broadband News and Analysis « Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    [...] data plans among the largest carriers. With such unpredictable variances in data demand, combined with the number of mobile broadband subscribers about to surpass wired subscribers around t…, it’s clearly becoming a challenge for any provider to offer truly unlimited mobile [...]

  6. More Mobile Broadband than Wired Broadband? | Telecompetitor Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    [...] Ericsson is forecasting that the total will surpass 3.8 billion by 2015. Some even argue that total mobile broadband connections will surpass total wired broadband connections this year.The proliferation of more bandwidth-intensive mobile devices–smartphones, tablets, [...]

  7. Goodbye MiFi, Hello Smartphone Mobile Hotspot: Mobile Technology News « Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    [...] and pay $35 for 3 GB of monthly data. Now that the MiFi is entering a third year of availability at a time where mobile broadband subscribers are about to surpass wired broadband subscribers, you’d think there would be an increasing number of MiFi customers like myself. But there [...]

  8. Mobile Broadband to Surpass Wireline in 2011 | Broadband Matters Thursday, January 13, 2011

    [...] of this increase will come from the adoption of smartphones, especially in Asia, where the company expects 400 million individual accounts by the end of the [...]

  9. surfing experience after throttling down isn’t really that attractive for landline broadband heavy users to switch to mobile.

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