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U.S. Mobile PC Data Card Usage Insights

ComScore released the results of a market study of U.S. Internet usage via mobile PC data cards, which showed that the subscriber base began to decelerate noticeably in Q4 2008.

The study examined the usage and characteristics of mobile PC data card users through data collected from computers where Internet access via mobile broadband Internet service providers (ISPs) occurred.

Mobile broadband employs cellular telecommunication networks, where users pay subscription fees for access and the connection is made using a PC card, built-in adapter, or connections can be tethered via a cell-phone or PDA.

PC data card adoption grew 163 percent overall in 2008, slightly ahead of the 157 percent growth rate in 2007, a confirmation of the market's strong growth trajectory.

However, despite this rapid adoption curve, Q4 2008 showed the first signs of softness in the market, as sequential quarterly subscriber growth fell to just 5 percent, following sequential growth of 22 percent in Q3 2008 and several preceding quarters of double-digit growth.

"The PC data card market is clearly still in the early stages of its adoption curve, with the overall number of U.S. subscribers multiplying in the past few years," said Serge Matta, comScore senior vice president.

"That said, we've observed a significant deceleration in subscriber growth during Q4 2008 coinciding with the economic downturn, an indication that mobile broadband service may still be seen by many as a luxury rather than a necessity."

Now is the time for mobile broadband providers to solidify their market position, because as the economy begins to recover and discretionary spending resume the market will likely accelerate once again.

The study also compared the Internet usage patterns of mobile broadband PC data card users with the general U.S. Internet population to determine how the availability of mobile broadband affects online time.

It is important to understand whether online access via mobile broadband represents incremental Internet usage or merely a shift in usage time between different access points.

When looking at the population in aggregate, the results indicated that PC data card usage actually represents a time-shift in Internet consumption, as PC data card users spent nearly the same amount of time online (89 hours) as typical U.S. Internet users (90 hours) during Q4 2008.

Of PC data card users with both a PC data card and a wireline ISP, approximately 25 percent of their total online time (22 hours) was spent using a PC data card.

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