US mobile subscriptions now at 101% of the population

The US mobile market now has more subscribers than the population and data usage is set to hit 1 exabyte in 2010. So are we heading for a data crunch and tiered pricing sooner rather than later?

Analyst Chetan Sharma’s view of the US third quarter mobile market is out and the top line figures seem to point to a data crunch coming sooner rather than later.

The results show the US wireless data market growing an impressive 25% Y/Y and to revenues exceeding $14B, which means the results are on track to meet (and most likely exceed) their initial estimate of $54B for the year.

Unfortunately while the revenue rises must be good news, there are a few problems on the horizon. The biggest is the immense amount of bandwidth that all of the phones are using. According to Chetan data traffic continued to increase across all networks, with some “superphones” that are routinely averaging more than 1 GB/month, and “superphones” as a category are averaging 700-800 MB/month.

By the end of 2010, Chetan expect the average US consumption to be approximately 325 MB/month up 112% from 2009. Which puts the US right behind Sweden in the top two by per capita mobile data consumption. It also means that Chetan expect the total US mobile data traffic to exceed 1 exabyte – that’s a billion gigabytes or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 – for the first time by the end of 2010.

The second problem is that the market is saturated. There aren’t too many more untapped pockets of mobile uses out there. As Chetan points out, the US has passed the magic point where there are now more mobiles than people. Chetan’s figures show the US mobile subscription number is equivalent to 101% of the US population. Although it probably passed this figure back in Q2 depending on the figures you use. The actual figure for mobiles to bodies in the US is 96%. Chetan however conservatively removes from the figure all of the US population 5 yrs and younger before it calculates the figure and comes up with a mobile subscription penetration of 101%, where as many would argue that it should be everyone under 12 years and younger, or even 15 years and younger that you take out, in which case the penetration would be even bigger.

But whatever maths you choose it’s a number larger than the population, and it’s a number when multiplied by 300Mb or 500Mb or 1 Gb comes to a bloody large number that spells danger, if the networks don’t get their act together.

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