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More than one billion people worldwide now enjoy the benefits of GSM, the GSM Association says.

This helped generate global GSM revenues of $277bn in 2003 - a figure expected to rise to over $500bn in 2005, according to a white paper from Deutsche Bank.

The study claims that GSM is closing the digital divide because mobile comms can go where no fixed line dares to tread: Gareth Jenkins, telecoms analyst at Deutsche Bank, said that GSM has made a real impact on people's lives by bringing modern telecommunications services to "chronically under-served communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America".

The one billion punters comprise one sixth of the global population - equal to the number of people who have no access to safe drinking water.

According to Rob Conway, CEO of the GSM Association, the record figure was reached last month, a little earlier than expected.

The association claims up to 80 per cent of new phones are GSM phones, and says that uptake of wireless technology means that mobiles now outnumber fixed landlines. More handsets are in daily use than the total number of personal computers and televisions combined, according to this study.

The huge popularity of mobile phones in poor countries is unsurprising. They are a great way of getting communications to places where alternative technologies would be astronomically expensive. But it is a moot point if mobiles are simply closing the telephonic - as opposed to the digital - divide.

In the last twelve months, GSM added nearly 198 million new users - more than CDMA, the second-placed mobile technology, had in its global customer base at the end of 2003. According to the Deutsche Bank study, at least 85 per cent of the world's next-generation wireless customers will use the GSM family of technologies - GSM/GPRS, EDGE and 3GSM - for both voice and data services. ®

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