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Robust Global Market for Mobile Broadband

The global market for mobile broadband advanced last year, driving major increases in data subscribers and revenues, and will play an increasingly central role in the success of the industry, according to the latest study by Informa Telecoms & Media.

"Mobile broadband has become one of the key growth engines for the mobile industry, with 186 million mobile broadband subscribers worldwide at the end of 2008, up 84 percent from 101 million at end-2007," says Mike Roberts, Principal Analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

By 2013 mobile broadband subscribers will represent almost one-third of total mobile subscribers worldwide.

The mobile broadband uptake was triggered by the combination of widespread mobile broadband network coverage, appealing devices such as USB modems and the iPhone 3G, and competitive flat-rate tariffs.

Flat-rate mobile broadband services with widespread coverage and new devices such as USB modems and the iPhone 3G are a runaway success, and have made mobile broadband one of the most significant strategic and commercial opportunities in the converging mobile and broadband markets.

At the end of 2008 there were more than 400 commercial mobile broadband networks worldwide supporting thousands of different mobile and portable devices and generating billions of dollars in operator revenues.

The mobile broadband markets in the U.S., Japan and Korea saw phenomenal growth in 2008, which led the three markets combined to account for the majority of global mobile broadband subscribers by the end of the year.

For example, all the pieces are falling into place for China Mobile's TD-SCDMA mobile broadband service to gain traction by 2010, and that together with new HSPA, EV-DO and TD-LTE services will drive the country to become the second-largest mobile broadband market worldwide in 2013.

India will be the fourth-largest market in 2013, following BSNL's launch of EV-DO mobile broadband services in 2008 and BSNL's and MTNL's expected launch of HSDPA services in late 2009.

However, mobile broadband will not be immune from the economic downturn, which will pile the pressure on beleaguered equipment vendors and force some operators to scale back or delay major investments, particularly in next-generation systems such as LTE.

"There's no doubt that the downturn will delay LTE deployments, with major operators already citing it as a key factor leading them to push LTE launch dates to 2011-12," Roberts says.

Many operators are also realizing that HSPA and HSPA+ upgrades should meet their needs for the next few years, and will cost a lot less than LTE rollouts. The net result is that the LTE subscribers will not gain momentum until 2013, or later.

However, the overall outlook for the mobile broadband market is still robust.

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