How Many Cell Phones Are in the US?

Michael Kwan
Laptop and mobile phone

With the rapid growth of the industry, many people are asking, "How many cell phones are in the U.S.?" To many casual observers, it seems like just about every person in just about every American community has a mobile phone.

How Many Cell Phones Are in the U.S.?

While all statistics related to cell phone usage are essentially good estimates rather than absolutely confirmed facts, the figures from the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (now best known as the CTIA - The Wireless Association) are generally accepted as the best information available about the wireless industry in the United States. If you want to know how many cell phones are in the U.S., the CTIA is a good place to turn.

In terms of background, the CTIA is an industry trade group that works to represent the interests of the wireless telecommunications industry in the United States. Members of the CTIA include cellular service providers, cell phone manufacturers, and manufacturers of enhanced mobile radio supplies. It is governed by a 35-member Board of Directors, each member of which serves for a one-year term. The representatives for 2011 include Dan Hesse of Sprint, Ralph de la Vega of AT&T, Jim Balsillie of Research in Motion (BlackBerry), and Matt Bross of Huawei Technologies.

According to the latest statistics from the CTIA, there are an estimated 292.8 million active wireless subscriber connections in the United States as of the June 2010 report. This represents a 93 percent wireless penetration of the total U.S. population. Compare this to the 194.4 million wireless subscriber connections in the United States in June 2005, which represented only a 66 percent total wireless penetration.

The increase in the number of mobile phones used by the American people may be partly attributed to the increasing affordability of cell phones, especially with low-cost prepaid phone providers. A more recent shift toward increased smartphone adoption does not necessarily increase the total number of cell phones, however, as most new smartphone users come from using regular phones.

Other Interesting U.S. Cell Phone Stats

With nearly 300 million cell phones in use in the United States, that puts the country third overall in the world when it comes to total mobile phones in use. Based on recent estimates, China has approximately 841 million and India has 729 million phones; however, both of these countries have substantially larger populations than the United States as well. The percent of their respective populations with cell phones is lower than the 93 percent wireless penetration in the United States.

Beyond the query regarding how many cell phones are in the U.S., there are many other interesting related statistics in the American wireless industry.

For instance, the texting statistics are quite telling in regards to how people are using their phones. According to the CTIA, approximately 57.2 billion text messages were sent in 2005. That number has since grown to 1.82 trillion text messages in 2010. That represents an over 30-fold increase. Over the same period, the annualized wireless minutes of use did not even double. In 2005, there were an estimated 1.26 trillion wireless minutes, compared to 2.26 trillion minutes in 2010.

The rise of smartphones has also paved the way for increased wireless data usage. Whereas total wireless revenue has only increased approximately 50 percent from 2005 to 2010 ($108.5 billion vs. $155.8 billion), wireless data revenue increased approximately 550 percent ($8.5 billion vs. $46.8 billion).

More and more American households are becoming wireless-only households as well. This means that an increasingly large proportion of the American population is abandoning the traditional landline telephone in favor of only using a cellular phone as the primary means of communication. Once again, according to the CTIA, 7.70 percent of households in 2005 were wireless-only, but this number rose to 24.50 percent based on estimates for 2010.

A Saturated Mobile Phone Market?

It may sound like 93 percent wireless penetration is very high, but the American market still has room for growth. Consider that markets like Russia and Hong Kong have wireless penetration rates in excess of 100 percent!

How Many Cell Phones Are in the US?