India's cellphone users to reach 278 million by 2010

Analysts expect India's user base to rise to 278 million by 2010 as the low call rates lure customers. At 93 million, now it exceeds the combined population of Germany and Belgium (via Reuters/Yahoo).

India's domestic market, forecast to grow to $5.8 billion by 2010, is expected to consume about 55 million handsets this year, up 71 percent from 2005. Between 4 million and 5 million new users are coming into the market each month, attracted to the world's cheapest local mobile call rates of as low as 2 U.S. cents a minute.

There is still room for growth as mobile ownership is just 9 percent in India where the population is more than a billion and networks, even though they are expanding rapidly, are still largely city centric.

Nokia, which controls nearly half the $2.5 billion Indian handset market, and its suppliers are investing about $150 million in its Chennai unit, which makes a few million handsets a month and has already exported phones to south east Asian nations like Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand.

More than 40 percent of the software that goes into Motorola RAZR handset is developed in its Indian R&D facility.

South Korean LG Electronics operates a plant in the western city of Pune that will churn out 20 million GSM and CDMA handsets by 2010, roughly half of which are earmarked for export.

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