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Study: 1.3 billion wireless Web surfers by 2004

A Cahners In-Stat Group study provides further evidence that the wireless Internet market is still growing.

Providing further evidence that the wireless Internet market is growing, a new study suggests 1.3 billion consumers worldwide will use a wireless Net access service by 2004.

According to Cahners In-Stat Group, a market research firm, wireless messaging will drive wireless Net access use, up from 170 million subscribers today. Cahners estimates the number of wireless messages sent per month will reach 244 billion by the end of 2004, up from 3 billion per month last year.

The study predicts about 1.5 billion wireless-enabled phones, handheld computers, and other devices will be in use by 2004.

With hundreds of millions of mobile handsets being sold worldwide each year, and an increasing demand for Net access and information regardless of location, analysts and company executives expect wireless Net access to skyrocket in the next few years. Major carriers such as Sprint PCS, Nextel and AT&T Wireless are offering rudimentary services for now, with more ambitious plans in the future.

Equipment providers such as Qualcomm, Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola also are developing new high-speed wireless Net access systems.

In a related study, local market research firm Scarborough Research today released statistics showing Detroit, Chicago and Baltimore as the U.S. cities with the highest percentage of cellular phone ownership among adults 18 and older. All three cities topped the 60 percent mark, according to Scarborough.

In all, 37 major U.S. markets had wireless penetration rates of 50 percent or higher, although many analysts peg the nationwide penetration rate at closer to 35 percent.