Mobile data usage looks set for a dramatic increase, with the number of people using data services set to grow from the current 3.5 million to 51 million by the end of 2003, according to an extremely optimistic report from research firm Strategy Analysts.

The prediction does however depend on 2.5G (GPRS, or general packet radio service) and 3G (third generation mobile, probably UMTS here) services being fully rolled out by the end of 2003. But with roll-out already way behind schedule, this is an extremely hopeful forecast.

"Basically the figures were relying on 3G services to have been rolled out [within the original time scale] but it also relies on GPRS take up," said Sarah Harris, senior industry analyst at Strategy Analysts.

The firm believes people were let down by the over-hyped arrival of WAP services, but are now ready for something new.

"As content improves and operators concentrate on what services they can actually offer now, rather than what they will be able to offer in the future, which was perhaps the reason why people were disappointed with WAP, we will see a flux in data services," said Harris. "People have been made aware of [3G's] limitations and operators are working within these."

But even so, an increase of over 40 million users over the next two years seems a little far-fetched.

"The figure includes a whole spectrum of applications, not just SMS," said Harris, who predicts European data call revenue of £5.1bn by 2003.

The Mobile Data Association is still totalling up the number of SMS messages sent throughout December, but backed the findings after a record-breaking 1.2 billion text messages were sent during November 2001, a figure it said could almost double over the Christmas period.

"Initially it will be businesses that will fund the services, they have more money and are willing to pay for improved services," said Harris. "But it will be the mass-market consumers who will eventually provide the most money."

But perhaps a rise in data services isn't that unexpected. The sheer expense of voice calls has put many people off making mobile calls and the rise of the internet generation means people are now becoming accustomed to using online services.

"People want to chat online with their friends and find information quickly," said Harris.