Study: Cell phone use to double

Though worldwide subscriptions to cell phone service will rise to 2 billion in the next few years, that twofold increase marks a slowdown in growth, according to a new study.

The number of cell phone users worldwide will rise twofold in the next few years, but there will still be a dramatic slowdown in growth, according to a new study.

About 186 million new cell phone subscribers will sign up every year between now and 2007, bringing the global total to 2 billion, research firm In-Stat/MDR said in a study released Wednesday. Though that total is twice the current tally, the predicted average annual growth rate is less than half that which the industry now experiences.

"The next five years will see a dramatic slowing of worldwide cellular subscriber growth," said Ken Hyers, an In-Stat/MDR senior analyst. "However, despite the fact that there has been a lot of fuss about the catastrophic slowdown in subscriber growth, there will be more than 931 million new subscribers over the next five years."

Southeast Asia--especially China--and virtually untapped countries in Africa and the Middle East will lead the growth charge over the next few years, according to Hyers. But he predicted that providers will run out of new customers in Western Europe, where more than 70 percent of some countries' populations already own handsets.

The study's findings match, to some degree, industry predictions made by Nokia. The Finnish handset maker, the market leader, forecasts there will be 1.6 billion cell phones in circulation by 2005--a rate of growth similar to that predicted by In-Stat/MDR.

The In-Stat/MDR study also paints a relatively good picture for Qualcomm's cell phone technology, CDMA (code division multiple access). By 2007, CDMA will still be the preferred cellular standard in the United States, over worldwide favorite GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) standard, the study predicts. Wireless-market analysts EMC published a similar finding in March.

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