Cell nation

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LAS VEGAS – More than two out of every three Americans is a wireless phone user, with more than 200 million subscribers in the nation, an industry group said Thursday.

CTIA-The Wireless Association said that wireless operators signed up 25.7 million more subscribers in 2005, the largest one-year growth in the industry’s history. The total as of Dec. 31 was 207.9 million subscribers, based on the organization’s semiannual survey of members.

“Considering that 10 years ago, there were only 38 million subscribers in America, this is one amazing feat,” said CTIA president Steve Largent, speaking at the group’s annual convention in Las Vegas.

Half of those subscribers use either Cingular Wireless, with 54.1 million customers as of Dec. 31, 2005, or Verizon Wireless, with 51.3 million.

Both are expected to show healthy increases when they report first-quarter additions.

Earlier this week, the Federal Communications Commission reported that the United States had 191 million wireless customers in June 2005, compared with 178 million switched access lines.

CTIA said U.S. subscribers were increasing their use of text messages and sheer minutes used, with those uses growing faster than the number of subscribers.

In the last half of 2005, U.S. users sent 48.7 billion text messages, nearly double the 24.7 billion sent in the second half of 2004.

Customers used 1.5 trillion wireless minutes last year, up nearly 36 percent from the 1.1 trillion minutes used in 2004.

Data use, which brings operators additional money beyond that spent for voice minutes, climbed to nearly $8.6 billion for the U.S. wireless industry, compared with $4.6 billion in 2004.

Speaking at a later CTIA event sponsored by Texas Instruments, TI president and chief executive Rich Templeton said he expects the number of wireless subscribers worldwide to keep growing quickly.

“As large as the wireless market is today, I believe we underestimate the opportunity that’s in front of us,” he said.

Templeton said that it took 125 years for traditional telephone systems to reach 1.2 billion wired telephone lines. In about 20 years, the wireless industry has attracted about 2 billion mobile phone users around the world.

“What’s staggering is that most people estimate that the number of subscribers could actually grow to 4 billion over the next five years,” he said.

The industry expects the next billion subscribers will come largely from India, China, Russia and Brazil, he said. India, which has about 80 million mobile phone subscribers, may reach 300 million by 2010 and 500 million to 600 million subscribers by 2015.

In January 2006 alone, India added another 5 million subscribers, he said.

“There are literally billions of people waiting to make their first call. They’ll be using a cell phone to do it,” Templeton said.

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