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More cell phones, less satisfaction

Embrace of mobile phones shouldn't be confused with enthusiasm for service providers, study stresses.

Consumers may not be crazy about the companies delivering cell phone service, but that's not deterring people from buying mobile phones.

Two-thirds of U.S. households now have at least one cell phone, and for many, one isn't enough, according to a study from Forrester Research. The number of households with four or more phones has grown by 57 percent over the last year, Forrester said Wednesday.

The embrace of mobile phones shouldn't be confused with enthusiasm for service providers, however. Though carriers are working to improve their networks and customer service, customer satisfaction has declined over the past three years and hovers around 50 percent in key categories, Forrester said.

"The wireless market continues to defy predictions that it is approaching its saturation point," Forrester analyst Charles S. Golvin said.

Consumers also say they don't need all the gewgaws, such as digital cameras and color screens, that cell phone makers are packing into handsets. Cell phone buyers remain more focused on basic features such as price, battery life and ease of use--less than one in 10 said a camera is vital to their purchase decision, according to Forrester, which surveyed 5,600 U.S. households.

Some new features are gaining in importance, however. Twenty percent of survey respondents said they want to have wireless data functions, like the ability to access e-mail and share photos.

The age group whose members are most likely to have a cell phone is 18- to 24-year-olds, surpassing the 25-to-34 group. The only category of population with less than 50 percent mobile-phone penetration was the 65 and older group.

The study also indicated that consolidation in the mobile-phone industry would concentrate dominance in three companies--Cingular Wireless, Verizon and Sprint-Nextel--that will own seven out of 10 households that have cell phones.