Blog Post

The State of Wireless Broadband: 225M Subscribers & Growing

[qi:gigaom_icon_iphone] We all know that in a few years, Long Term Evolution (LTE), the 4G wireless broadband technology being embraced by mobile carriers across the world, is going to rule the airwaves, becoming an important way for us to connect to the Internet. But for now, it seems HSPA, aka High Speed Packet Access, the 3G wireless broadband technology, rules the planet. HSPA is a common term used to embrace all acronyms for HSDPA and HSUPA as well as HSPA+.

Some estimate that there will be a whopping 250 million wireless broadband subscribers by the end of 2009. And an overwhelming majority of them will be using HSPA-based wireless broadband. According to the GSM Association (GSMA) there will be 150 million HSPA connections worldwide by the end of the summer. There are 300 HSPA networks in 127 countries and about 1,500 HSPA devices, GSMA estimates. The data collected by the trade group shows:


  • Asia-Pacific accounts for almost 50 million live HSPA connections today and will have over 56 million by September 2009.
  • EMEA will reach almost 60 million by the end of September 2009.
  • The U.S. will have nearly 37 million by this September, up from 32 million as of now.
  • The Americas will have more than 4 million connections by September 2009.
  • There will be 200 million HSPA connections in the first quarter of 2010.

3gnetworks.gifApparently HSPA networks are becoming connectivity backbones for the consumer electronics, automotive, energy and utility industries. (By the way, our network site, Earth2Tech has continuously been offering up excellent coverage as to how utilities and energy companies are using smart grid networks.)

And there will be a total of 250 million broadband subscribers by the end of 2009, according to research firm Informa, which has just released its World Cellular Data Metrics report. That compares to 225 million broadband subscribers in March 2009. Informa’s report includes 3G, WiMAX and other higher speed wireless data networking technologies as well. According to the firm, there are 90 million wireless broadband subscribers in Asia, but the growth is strongest in Latin America — 385 percent year-over-year to more than 10 million. From Informa’s press release:

Informa estimates that the increased usage in non-voice services has resulted in mobile operators recording total data revenues of US$46.5bn during 1Q09, which is an 8.5% y-o-y increase on the corresponding period in 2008. The value of the non-voice market for the whole of 2008 was over US$180bn, accounting for over 20% of total service revenues.

The spread of the iPhone continues to boost data usage for those operators that distribute the model with O2 reporting that 40% of its data traffic in UK comes from the smartphone market. Once the preserve of the corporate segment, the consumer market is now driving the evolution of the mobile data market. And yet, the value of the global data market has decreased by 1.8% in the last quarter.


Some analyst firms estimate that by 2013 there will be some 4.5 billion potential wireless subscribers able to access 3G or 4G wireless broadband on their mobile devices. This wireless future becomes increasingly obvious with every passing day.

For instance, today Clearwire (s CLWR) introduced its 4G WiMAX service in Vegas. There are about 3.5 million WiMAX connections worldwide, according to the Mavaredis Research report published last week. In another interesting development, in Hong Kong, CSL Limited, a subsidiary of Australia’s Telstra, launched the “Next G” network that is capable of downlink speeds of up to 21Mbps.

These are all signs that the emerging wireless broadband network — regardless of the networking protocol — is good for innovation and innovators. More entrepreneurs should be thinking about leveraging this wireless broadband platform in a more meaningful fashion.

It is an opportunity to create new devices such as the much-rumored Apple (s aapl) Tablet device, the CrunchPad, ebook readers or digital frames packed with broadband smarts.

If you’re interested in knowing more about Mobile Data and its opportunities, I encourage you to join our GigaOM Pro subscription research service ($79 a year) which not only offers you research reports such as Chetan Sharma’s State of the 4G Wireless, but also long views by our team of writers and industry experts.

Photos/Infographics courtesy of GSMA.

13 Responses to “The State of Wireless Broadband: 225M Subscribers & Growing”

  1. Om, as Stacey’s recent posts suggests, pricing for data plans in the U.S. remains at levels that limit adoption to a small segment of the population, and recent evidence indicates softness in demand even within that segment.

    I think an important topic for discussion is Mobile broadbrand pricing – particularly in markets where prices are lower or have dropped, compared to the U.S. – and its effect on adoption and usage.

    I would be interested in any data and perspectives you or readers might offer.

    Phil Hendrix, PhD

  2. Definitely, HSPA based mobile broadband in developing countries is fast becoming an alternative to fixed line broadband. 3G is a good option for the people who live in areas where there is no ADSL or cable infrastructure in such countries.
    Developed countries in north america and Europe would see more adoption to 4G mobile broadband as 4G is the next generation mobile broadband and can resolve speed and traffic issues better than 3G.

  3. Will there be a free upgrade from 3G to 4G or yet another opportunity for big mobile makers to market a new product and make a killing on the hype.

    yeah yeah, we have heard that before, as it will be a completely new technology we would need new hardware to access high speed even though one can access from 3G handset….”in order to truly experience 4G technology” it would be better to buy new hardware”