Pay for IT contractors in the telecoms sector has shot up 16 percent over the past year, driven by demand for mobile web content for Blackberry and other handheld devices.

Research carried out by SkillsMarket for the Association of Technology Staffing Companies (Atsco) show that hourly rates for IT contractors in the telecoms sector have risen from £37 ($74) to £43 - the fastest yearly rise since 2000.

High demand for software engineers with experience of mobile wireless platforms, such as Windows Mobile, is pushing up pay.

Employers and recruitment firms are reporting strong demand for developers with wireless technology skills, such as .mobi and Bluetooth, Atsco said. Demand for IT professionals with skills in middleware technologies to enable wireless devices to communicate with desktop machines was also rising.

"The telecoms sector was one of the hardest hit by the technology collapse in 2000 but over the last year utilisation of IT staff in the mobile and wireless areas has surged ahead," said Atsco chief executive Ann Swain.

"The Blackberry phenomenon is generating huge demand for software developed for business mobile devices. The Apple iPhone could do the same for the consumer market as software developers look to build iPhone compatibility into their forthcoming releases."

The UK launch of Apple's iPhone later this year was likely to kick-start the development of mobile-specific content, adding to the demand for skilled staff and pressure on pay, Swain added.

SkillsMarket director Alex Charles said the popularity of social networking sites had boosted demand for mobile internet skills. "This has been heightened by the fact that many companies now block access to such sites on their corporate networks," Charles said.