STOCKHOLM Mobile broadband subscriptions are on track to surpass 1 billion in 2011 only months after reaching half a billion, Ericsson said on Tuesday, highlighting a key growth driver for the telecom sector.
"During the course of 2010, a significant milestone in terms of mobile broadband subscriptions was reached as their number surpassed the half-a-billion mark globally," Ericsson, the world's biggest mobile network gear maker, said in a statement.
"Ericsson estimates that this number will double before 2011 ends."
Internet use on-the-go has soared in recent years, driven by cheap laptop computers, tablet computers such as Apple Inc's iPad and smartphones such as the iPhone.
Growing data traffic is seen driving revenue for telecoms operators and leading to increased investment in networks, boosting revenues for gear suppliers like Ericsson.
Asia Pacific is expected to account for the greatest number of subscriptions, around 400 million, followed by North America and western Europe with more than 200 million each, Ericsson said.
The group said that in 2008, mobile internet subscribers totaled around 200 million. By 2015, Ericsson believes mobile broadband subscriptions will top 3.8 billion, indicating the pace of growth is picking up.
The trend has already started boosting operators' revenues. Nordic telecoms firms TeliaSonera, Telenor and Tele2 all pointed to rising smartphone and mobile internet use as helping earnings last year.
Network providers like Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks and China's Huawei hope demand for on-line gaming, video streaming and watching TV will push operators to upgrade networks to boost capacity and speed.
(Reporting by Simon Johnson; Editing by David Holmes)