Yep, we've hit the 2 Billion Mobile Phone mark ahead of schedule. Pretty cool... I've been slowly ratcheting up the number of phones out there since the beginning of the year, but I've been using 1.7b for a month or so now, and obviously I wasn't nearly as aggressive in my numbers as I needed to be. Growth is projected to slow down a bit from here, over the next 4 years, we'll "only" be up to 3 billion by the end 2010.
The total numbers are a bit misleading from a mobile data-services standpoint (the stuff I do for a living), as much of the growth is in third world markets. Christian called this the "Coca-cola effect" the other day - i.e. there's pretty much no place on earth you can go without running into Coke advertising and bottles - mobiles are reaching this level of ubiquity. But in terms of being able to offer much beyond SMS and ringtones, the opportunities are probably minimal.
There's still lots of opportunity in those areas (SMS, ringtones, wallpapers, games), don't get me wrong, I'm just thinking about the next steps. The stuff to pay attention to IMHO is the growth of 3G services, flat-rate data, and the rise of multimedia-enabled mobiles. As I've written before here, the same infrastructure that supports Mobile Music will support other rich data-services. Over the next few months, look to see carriers world-wide roll out cool Music phones to compete with the iPod and emulate Japan and other Asian markets where these phones are already common. Then what happens is that these phones become Trojan Horses for other cool functionality, such as online multiplayer games, richer mobile applications, etc.
I've been playing with my Verizon VCast phone lately, and grabbed Asphalt Urban GT for the Audiovox I have - it's a 3D racing game that's also on the N-Gage. It's actually one of my favorite N-Gage games because it's easy to pick up and start playing and looks good. Well, it looks *just* as good on my VCast phone, but also allows me to play against other players online as well! That's very, very cool. You enter a Lobby and either host or join a race, and then within seconds you're playing against others. With the N-Gage you had to go through a lengthy Bluetooth setup (and have a friend nearby who had an N-Gage and the same app as well), but on the 3G EVDO phones, the game is quick and easy to start playing multiplayer. Incredible stuff.
I guess my point is that the 2 billion number gets the headlines, but the real story to me is the penetration rates of faster networks and more powerful handsets. Over the next 18 months we're going to see a dramatic increase in the number of advanced phones out there, which is really going to be exciting for those of us wanting to use these phones as a platform.