GSMA trumpets 4bn mobile connections

But there are worrying signs for the handset market elsewhere

GSMA trumpets 4bn mobile connections

Industry body the GSMA has announced that the mobile world has passed the four billion mobile connections landmark - including mobile handsets, but also other connected devices (think 3G laptop dongles).

The body claims this "underscores the continued strong growth of the mobile industry", and is predicting that the six billion connections milestone will be passed by 2013.

It's certainly a landmark, but that growth may not be as strong as the GSMA is claiming.

At the same time as it was announcing the 4bn figure, Nokia was revealing that it's cutting production at its Salo manufacturing plant, temporarily laying off the entire 2,500 workforce on a rotational basis - with 20-30 per cent of them to be idle at a time.

"With these plans, we aim to scale down Salo production to reflect reduced market demand, while operations in the factory continue uninterrupted," said Nokia's Juha Putkiranta, announcing the news.

Nokia is also closing its R&D mobile devices site in Jyväskylä, with both moves coming as part of its previously-announced cutbacks.

Every handset maker has predicted a decline in sales this year, but mobile games firms have stayed optimistic, pointing to the growth in smartphones driven by iPhone, Android, N-Gage and BlackBerry.

The overall handset market may decline, runs their reasoning, but if people are switching to smartphones in increasing numbers, that's not necessarily a problem.

But hang on. Nomura analyst Richard Windsor says those hopes may be unrealistic.

"I find that the industry view that there will be good growth in smartphones in 2009 to be fundamentally flawed,” he says. “I see two years of almost no growth before a strong bounce back in 2011.”

So while the four billion mobile connections mark is worth celebrating, as is the efforts being put into high-end smartphone platforms, the overall picture is significantly more nuanced.