This month, the mobile phone industry will celebrate an historic milestone as it connects the second billion GSM mobile phone users in the world.
The GSMA (GSM Association) said that new users are signing up at the rate of 1,000 per minute (just under 18 per second) to services that include both second generation GSM, as well as third generation 3GSM services - for which there are already more than 72 million users in the world.
"This is the fastest growth of technology ever witnessed," said Craig Ehrlich, Chairman of the GSMA. "While it took just 12 years for the industry to reach the first billion connections the second billion has been achieved in just two and a half years boosted by the phenomenal take up of mobile in emerging markets such as China, India, Africa and Latin America, which accounted for 82% of the second billion subscribers."
Mobile services based on GSM technology were first launched in Finland in 1991. Today, more than 690 mobile networks provide GSM services across 213 countries and GSM represents 82.4% of all global mobile connections.
China is the largest single GSM market in the world today, with more than 370 million users, followed by Russia with 145 million, India with 83 million and the USA with 78 million users. In India, mobile has even become the fastest selling consumer product - pushing bicycles to the number two spot.
GSM success can be attributed to an original vision of a cross border digital communications system, now used in almost every country of the world today. This vision enabled the development of a global eco-system delivering vast economies of scale, massive product and service choice and global roaming, among other benefits for users.
"With the achievement of the second billion milestone, GSM has become the first communications technology to have more users in the developing world than the developed world," said Rob Conway, CEO of the GSM Association. "What this means is that mobile phones are 'bridging the digital divide' at an astonishing rate with relevant, affordable solutions that help families stay in touch, businesses to grow and economies to develop."
The GSMA has launched a number of initiatives to help people in the developing world gain access to mobile communications. As part of its vision to 'Connect the Unconnected', the GSMA's Emerging Market Handset initiative has delivered a first sub$30 low cost mobile phone, and engaged mobile manufacturers to focus on more affordable mobile communications solutions that would prove attractive to a significant proportion of the world's unconnected people.
The GSMA has also called for the removal of tax barriers on mobile products and services in many emerging countries, as a result of studies, which demonstrates that taxes on mobile communications inhibit economic growth and social development.
In tandem with growth of GSM in emerging markets, the take up of next generation - 3GSM services globally is also flourishing. More than 105 networks across 50 countries have so far launched commercial 3G services. In Europe, where GSM is reaching saturation, aproximately 95 percent of new connections are now for 3GSM based mobile services.