Digital Wireless Services Reach Hits 97%

The availability of digital wireless technology has now proliferated to nearly every corner of the United States and mobile data services have begun to play a more significant role in the Commercial Mobile Radio Services (CMRS) industry, according to an FCC study.

About 278 million people, or 97 percent of the total U.S. population, live in counties where operators offer digital mobile telephone service, according to the FCC’s Eighth Annual State of Competition Report on the wireless industry.

Digital subscribers made up approximately 88 percent of all mobile telephone subscribers at the end of 2002, up from 80 percent at the end of 2001.

Overall, the mobile telephone sector generated more than $76 billion in revenues, and the number of mobile telephone subscribers rose from 128.5 million to 141.8 million, resulting in a nationwide penetration rate of roughly 49 percent.

To date, 270 million people, or 95 percent of the total U.S. population, live in counties with three or more different mobile telephone operators, compared with 94 percent a year ago. More than 236 million people, or 83 percent of the U.S. population, live in counties with five or more operators competing to offer service, up from 80 percent a year ago.

“Today 95 percent of American consumers now have three or more choices in wireless providers, and a stunning 71 percent have six or more choices. And with this wealth of choices has come lower per minute prices and more innovative services. The conclusion is inescapable: the wireless industry is highly competitive,” FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell said.

Since 1993, Congress has required the FCC to submit annual reports examining the state of competition in the wireless industry.

Mobile data services, albeit growing, remain just a drop in the bucket. Mobile data services generated only 1 percent of total industry revenue during 2002 and an estimated 11.9 million, or 8 percent, of the 141.8 million mobile telephone subscribers at the end of 2002 subscribed to some type of mobile Internet service. An additional 2.3 million consumers subscribed to mobile Internet services on data-only mobile devices at the end of 2002.

Still, services such as text messaging and email are growing in popularity. An estimated 20 percent of all mobile telephone subscribers used text messaging services during the fourth quarter of 2002. Mobile telephone carriers continued to upgrade their networks with next generation technologies including General Packet Radio Service and CDMA 1xRTT that allow them to offer mobile data services at higher data transfer speeds.

As of March 2003, operators were offering services over these next generation networks in at least some portion of U.S. counties containing 265 million people, or 93 percent of the U.S. population.

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