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Consumers keeping mobile phones for longer

Wireless customers now hold on to their mobile phones for 20.5 months on average, a notable increase over the 17.3 months they averaged in 1999.

The economic downturn and high monthly bills are causing consumers to hold on to their mobile phones for the longest period of time in recorded history, a new survey from J.D. Power and Associates suggests.

According to the firm, which surveyed 11,803 mobile phone users and 6,821 smartphone owners between January and June, the amount of time customers are holding on to their mobile phones has increased by 17 percent since 2009. Currently, the average wireless customer is hanging on to his or her phone for 20.5 months. J.D. Power and Associates said that that period was the longest the firm has recorded since it started tracking ownership in 1999.

Unfortunately, customers aren't necessarily holding on to mobile phones because they love their devices. In fact, the research firm said the extended period of ownership could be due to economic concerns.

"One possible reason for the significant increase in the length of mobile phone ownership is that more customers are delaying an upgrade purchase due to the general economic downturn, in which the expense of purchasing a new device could outweigh the added benefit of owning it," J.D. Power and Associates senior director of wireless services, Kirk Parsons, said in a statement. "Today, consumers are really watching their wallets, and any added discretionary expenses are being considered more thoughtfully than in the past."

But the economy is just one problem. Wireless customers are also being hit hard by higher monthly bills. In fact, the average monthly bill in 2010 is $78. The average bill was $69 per month in 2007. J.D. Power and Associates said that the increase is due to data charges and the increased use of text messaging to communicate with others.