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Today, smartphones outsell feature phones and other devices, but still make up only between 25% to 30% of all the mobile subscriptions around the world. Most devices connecting to the cellular networks are feature phones or other networked gear, such as mobile hotspots or machine-to-machine units. Smartphones made up 55% of phone sales during the third quarter of the year, says Ericsson.
"The rapid pace of smartphone uptake has been phenomenal and is set to continue. It took more than five years to reach the first billion smartphone subscriptions, but it will take less than two to hit the 2 billion mark," says Douglas Gilstrap, senior VP and head of strategy at Ericsson. "Between now and 2019, smartphone subscriptions will triple."
[ This is not good news for the camera industry. Read Smartphones Destroying High-End Camera Sales. ]
Most of this growth will come from emerging markets. "Interestingly, this trend will be driven by uptake in China and other emerging markets as lower-priced smartphone models become available." Markets in North America, select Asian countries (Japan, Korea), and Europe are reaching the saturation point as far as mobile devices and smartphones are concerned. There is already more than one connection per person in many markets.
Google and Nokia are doing their part to reach emerging markets. The latest version of Android, for example, was designed to work on hardware with as little as 512 MB of RAM. By streamlining Android's code, phone makers can put it on even less-expensive gear. Similarly, Nokia is targeting markets such as India and China with low-cost Asha-branded phones, and even Lumia smartphones such as the 520.
With demand for smartphones increasing, so is demand for mobile broadband. Ericsson's data suggests that smartphone traffic will grow by 10 times between 2013 and 2019, reaching a staggering 10 exabytes. Much of the growth will come from video, which is expanding by 55% annually. Video will account for 50% of all mobile traffic by 2019, while social networking and Web services will make up only about 10% each.
Mobile network operators are responding to this demand by stretching their coverage as much as possible. By 2019, 90% of the world's population will have access to WCDMA/HSPA and 65% will have access to LTE 4G. In the U.S., wireless network operators such as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless are already covering significant percentages of the population with fast mobile broadband.
Ericsson's report underscores the need for improved access to spectrum and other resources to further improve the availability of mobile broadband.