Mobile Phone Use Soars

Separate reports out this week show that mobile phone use is soaring in the United States and globally, and data moving across mobile networks is expected to grow dramatically over the next four years.

One report by comScoreMobiLens shows that Americans want to do more than talk on their phones, and they're willing to pay for it. A total of 234 million people age 13 and older in the U.S. used mobile devices in December 2009. In the past year, smartphone ownership increased from 11 percent to 17 percent of mobile users, while 3G phone ownership increased from 32 percent to 43 percent and unlimited data plan subscriptions rose from 16 percent to 21 percent.

Every month, comScore measures how often people use their phones to send text messages, access the Internet, play games, use downloaded applications, or "apps," check their Facebook profile, watch videos and listen to music.

In the latest comScore report, all of these activities showed an increase from the previous report period. Though most of the increases are modest because the survey was conducted over a short 90-day period, texting and visiting a social networking site or blog increased more than 2 percent.

The report also reveals users are shifting from the more utilitarian phone operating systems toward more media-focused operating systems that have more functionality. While RIM, the operating system for BlackBerry devices, remained the leading mobile smartphone operating system in the U.S at 41.6 percent, it saw its market share drop slightly along with Microsoft and Palm.

Meanwhile, Apple, which owns a quarter of the mobile market and is ranked second, saw a gain in popularity for its media friendly iPhone platform. Likewise, Google's Android operating system surged in popularity with the launch of Motorola's Droid in November, allowing the company to double its market share in just three months. Like the iPhone, the Droid is built for multimedia content.

Separate research released by Cisco estimates that global mobile data traffic has increased by 160 percent over the past year to 90 petabytes per month, or the equivalent of 23 million DVDs. The company projects that this figure will increase 39-fold by 2014, to about 3.6 exabytes per month. One exabyte is equal to about 1 billion gigabytes.

A major driving force behind the mobile data surge will be videos, Cisco says. The company predicts mobile video will represent 66 percent of all mobile data traffic by 2014.

New services will continue to make it easy for users to do more with their phones. Yesterday, Google announced Google Buzz, a new social networking tool that combines a user's social networking sites with their email and chat. Google Buzz will also be available as a downloadable mobile app for Android-based phones like the Nexus One and Apple's iPhone, giving users one more reason to stay on the phone just a few more minutes.

Leslie Meredith
Leslie Meredith is a contributor to Live Science. She has a bachelor's degree from UCLA in psychology and has directed tourism and ski publications for the Salt Lake Visitor & Convention Bureau and managed promotions and events for Sunset Magazine.