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3G Hits Liftoff Mode

New statistics on the spread of 3G cellular networks have come out recently, and they show that the spread of 3G has reached (buzzword alert) a tipping point -- in the original sense of a mark on the Y-axis beyond which subscriber growth grows geometrically.

According to 3G Today, there are now more than 404 million subscribers getting 3G service using either CDMA2000 or WCDMA/UMTS technologies. The largest concentration of subscribers is in East Asia, where Japan (54 million subscribers) and South Korea (38 million) lead the way in 3G. The worldwide numbers will increase sharply in 2007 as 3G networks spread across North America and penetrate further in Western Europe, and when developing Asian markets like China and India enter the fray.

Writing on GigaOm, wireless consultant Chetan Sharma has some data on the U.S. market, looking at WDCMA and EV-DO. Interestingly, Sharma notes that the No. 1 U.S. wireless carrier Cingular Wireless , which has posted spectacular over subscriber growth the last couple of quarters, actually lags behind its rivals Verizon and Sprint in terms of national 3G coverage. Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and Verizon Wireless are nearing coast-to-coast coverage, Sharma says, while Cingular has covered just 52 cities in 28 states, or around 50 percent of the total United States. Verizon alone has around 80 percent of the total 3G subscribers in the U.S. today.

Cingular, writes Sharma, "needs better market coverage and a broader range of devices before it can start catching up with its CDMA buddies."

Among the second-tier carriers, T-Mobile US Inc. will not begin rolling out 3G networks until the second half of 2007, while No. 5 Alltel Corp. (NYSE: AT) has done a good job of spreading EV-DO coverage in its regional markets and should achieve near 100 percent coverage by mid-2007.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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