GSM To Hit 1 Billion Users, Mobile Data Use Up
By Carlo Longino, Tue Jan 27 21:15:00 GMT 2004

The GSM trade body says the standard will pass the milestone in the first quarter of the year, while a market analyst says the number of mobile data users passed 100 million for the first time last year.

There were 970 million GSM users worldwide at the turn of the year, and with the industry adding roughly 15 million per month, the GSM Association is confident the number will soon top 1 billion. The group is also touting stats that 80% of new mobile users in 2003 were on GSM networks, or as many as the total number of global CDMA users.

The EMC report says that mobile data use was up about 15% in the third quarter of 2003, to over 100 million users per month. EMC says that number should be over 115 million by the end of this month, with both figures thanks largely to growth in Asia. These numbers represent less than 10% of global mobile subscribers, which strikes me as particularly low. I seem to remember seeing a DoCoMo stat recently that they have over 40 million i-mode subscribers, so it's hard for me to believe that they represent somewhere between 33 and 40% of the world's total mobile data users.

But I guess most of that comes down to semantics -- "Mobile data subscribers are referred to as active users of GPRS, MMS, CDMA2000 1X or i-mode," EMC's press release says. What about WAP users over circuit-switched data, or on an even more basic level, SMS? If they're counting MMS, why should SMS be left out? It's still used to deliver plenty of content like ringtones and images, as well as text alerts like news flashes and sports scores. That's mobile data in my mind.

It doesn't really matter what distinctions EMC makes or how big they say the market is -- I just worry that it reflects how this "mobile data market" is viewed. While we're seeing plenty of handset replacements with users upgrading to advanced devices and smartphones, there are still a lot of users out there with older, basic handsets, and plenty of users in developing countries (like China, which saw the most GSM growth last year) that are purchasing cheap, low end devices. The mobile data industry shouldn't look over those people just because they don't want to pay for GPRS or their handset doesn't have a color screen -- they should keep them in mind and develop content and services that cater to their wants and needs as well.