As the 10th anniversary iPhone debuts, it’s amazing to see how far wireless has come. A decade ago, the U.S. was the laggard in cellphone tech, with clunky handsets, slow connections, and minimal online services compared to lots of Europe and Asia. Now the U.S. leads most of the world in both hardware and networks, according to new research the GSMA wireless industry group released today. In what GSMA calls “North America” (U.S. and Canada, but dominated by the U.S.), 78% of people with phones own smartphones. (Which begs the question: Who are all those people with flip models?) The region closest to North America is Europe, with just 60% smartphone ownership. And 266 million Americans had at least one mobile service subscription—in a country with a total population—including children—of 326 million.
The U.S. tops the planet in fast wireless: From 2011 to 2012, 4G coverage jumped from reaching 35% to 90% of the US population. (Apple’s first 4G-capable phone, the iPhone 5, came out in September 2012.) Today, 99% of Americans can access 4G, according to the report (although I know plenty of backroads where they can’t); and 63% of people with phones have 4G/LTE service. 5G is expected to take off just as quickly. With widespread launch in 2019 (led by AT&T and Verizon), 39% of U.S. customers will be able to get 5G service; by 2025, it will be 82%.
As anyone who’s run into someone staring at their phone might suspect, Americans are also the most active on wireless networks—doing any of 10 common activities, like checking social media, navigating, or buying stuff online—more frequently per day than any other developed country.