page considers mobile (cellphone) networks and use of
mobiles in advanced and emerging economies.
It covers -
number of mobile phone customers passed the two billion
mark in September 2005. It is likely that there are now
more mobiles in use than 'fixed' (landline or POTS) handsets.
In some advanced economies the overall number of landlines
in use is declining as consumers migrate to the net (eg
share voice and net traffic on an ADSL line) and mobile
networks. In developing economies mobiles have been hailed
as potentially the major bridge across different digital
Adoption of mobile phone technology by consumers and network
operators, whether as a complement or alternative to POTS
phones, has reflected -
portability of mobile handsets and devices such as PDAs
inclusion of features such as digital cameras and access
to sound files
ability to send/receive SMS and MMS
privacy offered by mobiles, which are typically 'owned'
by an individual rather than by an organisation or shared
with a family
ease with which a mobile network can be rolled out and
maintained by a network operator
balance between maintenance costs and consumer willingness
to pay a premium for access to the network, typically
more attractive to network operators than traditional
considering mobile phones we can currently identify an
evolution through three basic generations of service,
often with different standards that are peculiar to particular
regions or even individidual network operators.
The first, retroactively labelled as 1G, used analogue
technology for the transmission of voice traffic.
The second generation encompasses competing standards
characterised as second generation (ie 2G) or personal
communications service (PCS). It uses digital technologies
that enabled better audio quality in voice transmissions,
increased capacity on networks through enhanced TDMA or
CDMA multiplexing and some data (eg time/date with voice
calls and SMS in '2.5G').
Most Australian mobile consumers rely on a 2G phone.
Third generation networks (3G), often an extension of
the main 2.5G standard, are designed to enable rapid transmission
of very large quantities of data, for example video clips
and other MMS. Adoption
of those networks has been inhibited by -
absence of what many consumers regard as a compelling
case for switching to 3G
restrictions by government, which have sought to extract
the maximum value by auctioning off spectrum to potential
3G network operators
among operators about which standard to choose
among content creators/packagers and service providers
about whether to enter the 3G market
among some operators to move to 3G while they are still
recouping investment in 2G.
mobiles and the net
Apart from personal computers, the internet device with
which many people are most familiar is the mobile phone.
The primary uses are voice and SMS (aka texting), with
both adults and the under-18 years cohorts in many countries
making intensive use for sending messages to peers and
receiving messages from other mobiles or from personal
computers via web interfaces.
Despite sometimes delirious forecasts by enthusiasts,
there has been little sustained consumer interest outside
Japan in use of mobiles for surfing, accessing music other
than ringtones (which until the advent of the iPod was
the most profitable online music sector), reading books
or watching video - erotic
or otherwise - that is longer than short clips. Businesses
are thus struggling with different models for 'mobile
Recurrent claims that mobiles will "soon replace
PCs as the most popular method of accessing the Net"
should be regarded with scepticism. Although over a billion
mobiles may be "internet-enabled", few owners
are using that capacity and uptake of MMS has also been
low. That is unsurprising, given connectivity costs, usability
barriers and the absence of compelling content. Much of
the hype about "Hollywood blockbusters on your mobile"
relates to video downloaded over broadband and then transferred
- painfully - to the mobile. An IMAX experience it is
Some users are more sensibly using a mobile as a bridge
between a laptop computer (larger screen, greater memory,
easier data entry and navigation) and the net. The convergence
discussed earlier in this guide means that the distinction
between mobile phones and laptops is blurring, with some
personal computers being shipped with or retrofitted with
a mobile phone card that obviates the need for a cable
or bluetooth connection to a mobile handset.
Such cautions have not deterred the brave (or merely foolhardy)
and it thus common to see proposals for the use of phones
as electronic wallets, repositories
of personal medical records or even passports,
or security devices.
The ABC for example burbled
that the mobile phone will
us the ability to track
our friends or children; provide bullet-proof ID; act
as a credit card; download films and books; even replace
our front door keys.
That hype is similar to some of the wilder forecasts about
the imminent benefits (or horrid ills) of subcutaneous
total number of mobile connections in 2005 was equivalent
to around 30% of the estimated world population of 6.5
billion (with total connections higher than the real number
of users due to multiple connections and inactive prepaid
The mobile industry celebrated reaching 1 billion subscribers
in 2002, just 20 years after it was introduced, making
it the fastest growing technology at that time. In the
same year it overtook the fixed network and its growth
has carried on unabated with the second billion coming
in 2005. Global mobile phone subscriptions headed towards
3.25 billion at the end of 2007, out of a population of
6.6 billion people. Penetration in Europe reached a notional
100% of the population (some people having two or three
mobiles, others churning through subscriptions throughout
the year), with 666 million subscriptions. In December
2008 TeleGeography reported that international voice traffic
on mobiles reached 343 billion minutes in 2007, projected
to reach 385 billion minutes in 2008. During 2007 nearly
one-third of international calls were placed from mobile
phones, with 45% of international calls terminating on
mobiles. TeleGeography estimated that by the end of 2009
more international calls will be made to mobile phones
than to fixed lines.
The GSM family of technologies, which includes W-CDMA,
had an estimated 1.5 billion subscribers as of 2005 (with
78% of the world market).
In many countries the cellular market is now maturing,
with market penetration over 100% of the population in
some nations such as the UK, Sweden, Austria and Italy.
In those states consumers are 'trading up' to new phones/services
such as 3G and aquiring additional phones. Globally most
growth is now coming from large, less well-developed markets
such as China, India, Eastern Europe, Latin America and
Overall the mobile industry expects to ship around 750
million new devices in 2005, with Ovum projecting 3 billion
subscribers by the end of 2010. Gartner forecast in July
2005 that global handset sales would rise from an estimated
780 million to over 1 billion in 2009, with some 674 million
mobiles sold in 2004. Cumulative sales from 1997 to 2009
were forecast at around 7.5 billion phones (with around
2.6 billion in use).
There is no single global standard for mobile telephony,
with the result that some regions (and even some operators)
feature two or more standards.
2G essentially comprises competing TDMA and CDMA systems
(TDMA), developed in Europe and subsequently adopted
in much of the world, including Australia
(TDMA), used only in Japan
IDEN (TDMA), used by Nextel in the US and Telus in Canada
IS-136 (TDMA), used in the Americas and often referred
to as 'TDMA' or D-AMPS
(CDMA) commonly referred as simply CDMA in the US),
used in the Americas, Australia and parts of Asia and
often referred to as 'CDMA' or IS-95
The dominant family of 2G standards, particularly outside
the US, is GSM. It dates from the Groupe Spécial
Mobile (GSM) study group established in 1982 by the Conference
of European Posts & Telegraphs (CEPT) to develop a
pan-European public mobile system. CEPT envisaged that
the system would supersede incompatible individual operator/national
developments and feature -
subjective speech quality
terminal and service cost
for international roaming and new services
efficiency and ISDN compatibility
Responsibility for GSM was assumed by the European Telecommunication
Standards Institute (ETSI) in 1989, with commercial services
commencing in 1991.
A lucid introduction to GSM is here.
3G networks and applications
Third generation networks, aspiring to provide seamless
access to email, audio, still and moving images and other
content, use a range of technologies that are an extension
of 2.5G systems and thus reflect the ambitions of specific
nations and network consortia.
Those technologies include -
Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS, sometimes promoted
as 3GSM) is based on GSM and has been developed under
the auspices of the Third Generation Partnership Program
consortium representing European and Japanese interests
also based on CDMA, has been deployed commercially in
Japan and claimed to offer better performance than UMTS.
Handy-phone System (PHS, sometimes promoted as Personal
Access System or PHS).
use in advanced economies
A detailed profile on SMS
is here, along with a complementary profile on MMS
and on ringtones.
In Japanese mobile phone giant NTT DoCoMo
announced mid-2001 that subscribers on its wireless internet
i-mode network had climbed to 20 million, 100% growth
over a seven month period.
DoCoMo, something of an oddity, claimed that consumers
were serviced by 828 companies offering information on
i-mode and between 1,500 to 40,000 sites. The uncertainty
reflects questions about the compatibility of many of
the sites; only a thousand or so are formally recognised
by DoCoMo, which uses a proprietary standard.
Telecommunications analysts suggest that DoCoMo is now
gaining around a million users each month. The use made
of the service is more problematical. Many anecdotal reports
suggest that the service is overwhelmingly used for 'texting',
rather than 'surfing'. It is an 'always-on' packet-data
transmission system. Subscribers are charged according
to the volume of data they transmit, not the time spent
online. Penetration of i-mode in Europe has been very
poor: UK telco O2 for example indicated that despite substantial
investment in marketing the number of i-mode subscribers
had failed to climb past 260,000 as of July 2007.
For a concise historical and cultural overview of mobile
phones see on John Agar's Constant Touch: A Global
History of the Mobile Phone (London: Icon 2003).
There is a more detailed discussion in Perpetual contact:
Mobile communication, private talk, public performance
(Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2002) edited by James
Katz & Mark Aakhus, Magic in the Air: Mobile Communication
and the transformation of social life (New Brunswick:
Transaction 2006) by Katz, Personal, Portable,
Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life (Cambridge:
MIT Press 2005) edited by Mizuko Ito, Daisuke Okabe &
Misa Matsuda, Thumb Culture: The Meaning of Mobile
Phones for Society (New Brunswick: Transaction 2005)
edited by Peter Glotz, Stefan Bertschi & Chris Locke,
Mobile Communication and Society: A Global Perspective
(Cambridge: MIT Press 2006) by Manuel Castells, Mireia
Fernández-Ardèvol, Jack Qiu & Araba
Sey and Hans Geser's 2002 paper
Towards a Sociological Theory of the Mobile Phone.
Anxieties about mobiles
are explored in Adam Burgess' persuasive Cellular
Phones, Public Fears & A Culture of Precaution
(Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2004) and in Gerard Goggin's
more discursive Cell Phone Culture: Mobile Technology
in Everyday Life (London: Routledge 2006).
Industry associations and individual network operators
have published reports of varying quality about uptake
of mobiles. In Australia for example see the thin Australian
Mobile Phone Lifestyle Index released
in 2005 to "address the information deficit regarding
mobile phone usage in Australia".
R Bekkers & J Smits explore standards in Mobile
Telecommunications: Standards, Regulation & Applications
(Boston: Artech House 1998), with a further exploration
in Wireless Communications: The Future (New York:
Wiley 2007) by William Webb.
For i-mode see the 2001 paper
from IBM on The Semi-Walled Garden: Japan's "i-mode
Phenomenon" and Jeffrey Funk's paper From Ticket
Reservations to Phones as Tickets and Money: New Applications
for the Mobile Internet in the Japanese Market (PDF).
We have pointed
to corporate histories of the mobile phone giants elsewhere
on this site. They include Anytime, Anywhere: Entrepreneurship
and the Creation of a Wireless World (New York: Cambridge
Uni Press 2002) by Louis Galambos & Eric Abrahamson,
Rollercoaster: The Turbulent Life & Times of Vodafone
& Chris Gent (New York: Wiley 2003) by Trevor
Merriden, the triumphalist DoCoMo: Japan's Wireless
Tsunami: How One Mobile Telecom Created a New Market and
Became a Global Force (New York: Amacom 2002) by
John Beck & Mitchell Wade and Money from Thin
Air: The Story of Craig McCaw, the Visionary who Invented
the Cell Phone Industry, and His Next Billion-Dollar Idea
(New York: Crown 2000) by O Casey Corr.
page (dark fibre)