Mobile broadband conundrum

Taking the statistics at face value, the number of mobile broadband subscriptions around the world exceeded fixed broadband subscriptions in mid-2009. According to the GSM Association, there were 521 million mobile broadband subscriptions in the second quarter of 2009. [1] According to Point-Topic there were 444 million fixed broadband subscriptions during the same period. [2]

However most fixed broadband subscriptions tend to be active. That is users pay a fixed monthly fee and are likely then to be using the service. On the other hand, many mobile broadband operators report the theoretical number of subscriptions--that is users with a broadband enabled handset that could use the service, whether they are using it or not. The difference between reported and active mobile broadband subscriptions is significant. According to European Union data, only 42 per cent of the 173 million mobile broadband subscriptions reported on 1 July 2009 were active. [3] In the United States, the official number of mobile broadband subscriptions dropped by 58 per cent between June and December 2008 after the definition was changed to count only active subscribers. [4]

Applying the EU ratio of total to actual mobile broadband subscriptions to the world total results in a guesstimate of 217 million mobile broadband subscriptions in mid-2009, just less than half of total fixed subscriptions.
The OECD has recently issued a methodological document with recommendations for the definitions of mobile broadband. It defines active mobile broadband subscriptions as “…voice subscriptions which also provide access to the larger Internet via HTTP at advertised speeds of at least 256 kbit/s and which have been used to make an Internet data connection using Internet Protocol (IP) in the previous three months” or “…dedicated data subscriptions on mobile networks advertising speeds of at least 256 kbit/s which are purchased separately from voice services either as a stand-alone service (modem/dongle) or as an add-on data package to a voice service requiring an additional subscription.”[5]

[1] GSMA Association. October 19, 2009. "Market Data Summary [Q2 2009]." GSM World. http://www.gsmworld.com/newsroom/market-data/market_data_summary.htm. [Accessed 1 April 2010]
[2] Fiona Vanier. September 2009. World Broadband Statistics: Q2 2009. Point Topic: London.
[3] European Commission. 18 November 2009. Broadband access in the EU: situation at 1 July 2009.
[4] Federal Communications Commission. 2010. High-Speed Services for Internet Access: Status as of December 31, 2008.
[5] Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. March 18, 2010. Wireless Broadband Indicator Methodology.

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