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Global Wireless Subscriptions to Reach 5 Billion in September

This month, the world is reaching a major milestone in the history of technology, says market research firm iSuppi: there will be, by the end of September, 5 billion mobile subscribers worldwide. That’s a number equating to 73.4% of the Earth’s population. And by year-end the number will reach 5.1 billion subscriptions reports the firm.

However, this doesn’t mean that 3 out of every 4 people will actually own a mobile phone – the statistic provided refers to payments for wireless services, not just number of handsets. The install base of actual wireless devices will “only” reach 4.9 billion by year-end, but that’s still a staggering number.

The 5 billion figure counts all wireless subscriptions including everything from what iSuppli refers to as “ultra low-cost handsets” (aka “feature phones” or “messaging phones”) to high-end smartphones. It also includes things like extra SIM cards and services to Machine-to-Machine communication systems. The latter category includes any wireless device that transmits data to another machine, such as remote video surveillance systems, in-vehicle camera systems and other mechanisms that may fall under the category of the “Internet of Things.”

The new report breaks down wireless growth by region, too, noting that wireless subscriptions vary widely depending on geography. In Africa and the Middle East, for example, wireless penetration is only around 50%. In Western Europe, it’s 157.6% – yes, there are actually more wireless subscriptions than citizens. This is due to the fact that many Europeans carry more than one phone or SIM card while travelling.

What This Data Means for Mobile Developers

According to iSuppli, the market for pre-loaded applications (those that come installed on handsets) will increase from $4.4 billion this year to $7.7 billion in 2014.

What these numbers don’t mean, though, is “build more iPhone apps.” Much of the mobile device market, the majority in fact, is made up of feature phones. Last week at the Nokia World 2010 event in London, for example, the handset giant announced that it sold nearly 1 million feature phones per day last year. Nokia’s developer chief Purnima Kochikar urged the developer community to build more Java apps for these devices, saying that Java was the platform that would bring Internet to the rest of the world.

Well, Java and low-cost data plans, that is.

Worldwide Web founder Tim Bernes-Lee also spoke at the Nokia event and noted that 80% of the world actually has access to the Web, most via their mobile phones, but can’t afford to use it.

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