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ITU:  Cell Phones to Outnumber Fixed Line Phones Worldwide Soon

The International Telecommunications Union says the number of mobile, or cellular, telephones around the world will exceed the number of fixed line telephones within a few months.

The International Telecommunications Union reports some countries like Taiwan have more mobile phone users than inhabitants. The organization says growth rates are slowing in some countries, especially in Western Europe, which may have reached the saturation point.

ITU spokesman, Gary Fowlie, says developing countries offer a great sales opportunity for mobile phone manufacturers. He says the scope for future growth is highest among developing countries, notably in China and India.

"The least penetration for mobile phones are in developed countries, which have retained what is called a 'receiving party pays' billing scheme, which means both parties have to pay, both the sender and the receiver of the call," he said.

These countries, which include the United States and Canada, have experienced much slower rates of growth than in Western Europe where only the person making the call pays.

The ITU says markets are waiting for the so-called 3-G or third generation mobile phones, which boosters say will have many applications.

Mr. Fowlie says mobile phones of the future will be able to operate as personal computers and may even be able to monitor the whereabouts of children or pets. "What we are looking at are things like roaming devices," he said. "You can put a device on a dog's collar that will signal where the dog is. While it will not be able to communicate with you directly, you will be able to know where your dog is."

By the end of 2003, the ITU estimates there will be more than 1.5 billion mobile telephones.