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Wednesday, 12 January 2011 18:06

Will real mobile broadband users please stand up


A great number of the mobile phones on the market today are capable of accessing the Internet. But does that make everyone who owns one 'a mobile broadband subscriber'? With widely differing prognostications being bandied about it's time to bring some rigour to the issue.

The OECD, for example, does not have a category for a 'mobile broadband subscribers': they are embraced by 'wireless broadband' which covers satellite and terrestrial fixed wireless technologies and all types of mobile broadband services - dongles, handsets, etc.

When the OECD published its latest broadband stats last month it broke out wireless broadband users for the first time, and by its reckoning there were over 10 million of them in Australia at 30 June. Australia has few fixed wireless broadband customer yet that figure is way above the 3.46 million figure for mobile broadband subscribers from the ACMA for the same date, but the ACMA was counting only dedicated mobile broadband devices: inbuilt modems, datacards, dongles, WiFi/3G routers etc.

By the OECD's reckoning there were almost half a billion wireless broadband subscribers in its 29 member countries at 30 June Absent from that list is the whole of Asia with the exception of Korea and Japan.

That figure was well above the 294 million wired broadband services in OECD countries and puts global wireless broadband figures close the total for ALL broadband services being bandied around by some commentators.

For example, global market research firm In-Stat, estimated total broadband subscribers globally, including mobile, at the end of 2010 were only about 763 million and are expect to reach only about one billion by end 2011.


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According to industry analyst Vahid Dejwakh: "From 2007 through 2009, there was a continued growth rate of 25 percent in broadband subscribers worldwide'¦[but] this is expected to slowly decrease to 10 percent by 2014 as the broadband market matures."

Contrast this with what Ericsson is saying and the two don't seem to even be on the same planet. Ericsson - which has been chanting the mantra of '50 billion connected mobile devices by 2020' for some time now - said: "During the course of 2010, a significant milestone in terms of mobile broadband subscriptions was reached as their number surpassed the half-a-billion mark globally [and] Ericsson estimates that this number will double before 2011 ends." Ericsson is forecasting this number to reach 3.8 billion by 2015.

Clearly Ericsson includes all types of mobile devices in this estimate. It says: "Mobile broadband adoption has accelerated with strong growth of smartphones, connected laptops and tablets [and] smartphone users are increasingly using applications and Internet services on the go."

That last sentence says it all. With more and more mobile phones being broadband enabled every owner making use of data services makes them another mobile broadband statistic regardless of how often they use such functionality.

Surely it's time to stop talking about mobile broadband data users and talk usage instead. As the ACMA points out, fixed broadband services accounted for 91 percent of data downloads in the June quarter.

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