The number of mobile phone connections worldwide will hit three billion by the end of next year.

There are presently 2.5 billion cellular connections, up from 1.5 billion at the start of 2004, said Wireless Intelligence, a venture between Ovum and the GSM Association. That number is increasing at a rate of 40 million new connections every month, it said, adding this is the fastest rate of growth yet seen by the industry.

The number of connections does not represent the number of actual users, since many subscribers have more than one connection, Wireless Intelligence said. In addition, these figures include pre-paid accounts that may no longer be active. But with the world's population just above 6.5 billion, it demonstrates the enormous success of the technology.

Over the last year, there have been 484 million new cellular connections created. Much of the growth is in Asia, accounting for 41 percent of new cellular connections. China alone accounts for five million new connections every month, and India is quickly catching up.

Eastern Europe and Latin America together accounted for 30 percent of new connections, while Africa was home to 10 percent of new connections. North America, Western Europe and the Middle East accounted for 20 percent of new connections, it said.