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Worldwide smartphone subscriptions will triple by 2019

Worldwide smartphone subscriptions are poised to triple from 1.9 billion at the end of 2013 to 5.6 billion in 2019, according to a new report from telecom vendor Ericsson.

The increase is expected to be driven in large part by the growing availability of low-cost smartphones. Ericsson expects a "notable increase" in smartphone subscriptions in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa as people swap out their basic phones for smartphones. In 2016, there will be more smartphone subscriptions globally than those for basic phones, the firm predicted.

Overall mobile subscriptions are expected to reach 9.3 billion by 2019, more than 60 per cent of which will be for smartphones. At this point, smartphones represent 25 to 30 per cent of all mobile phone subscriptions, yet they account for 55 per cent of the mobile phones sold in the third quarter.

After the first iPhone was released in 2007, it took more than five years to reach 1 billion smartphone subscriptions in the world. It will take less than two years to hit the 2 billion mark.

"In 2013, the amount of traffic generated by smartphones is surpassing the total amount of traffic coming from all other types of devices connected to mobile networks," Johan Wibergh, head of business unit networks at Ericsson, said in a video about the report.

During the same time, mobile Internet subscriptions are expected to quadruple from today's 2 billion to 8 billion by 2019. The amount of data sent by each smartphone could also quadruple.

"In 2019, over two weeks' time, five exabytes of information will be sent by smartphones," Wibergh said. "How much information is that? That's the same amount of words [that have] been spoken by mankind through history of time."

Meanwhile, LTE is also rapidly growing. In the third quarter of 2013, there were 25 million new LTE subscriptions, for a total of 150 million LTE subscribers worldwide. But 3G HSPA is growing even quicker. During the same period, there were 80 million new 3G subscriptions, for a total of 1.6 billion.

"In the next two years then, we will have another one billion subscriptions, making 3G the fastest-growing technology on the earth today for mobile broadband," Wibergh said. By 2019, 3G HSPA is predicted to cover 90 per cent of the world's population while 4G LTE will blanket 65 per cent.