One billion people will be using the GSM (global system for mobile communications) network by the end of the year, according to the GSM Association. The network, which is used by mobile phone operators to offer voice and data communications, currently has 787 subscribers across 90 countries worldwide.

These figures mean that one in seven people on the planet use GSM services. Not bad growth given that as recently as 30 years ago the mobile phone was rarely sighted on the streets — in 1976 just 545 customers in New York had a Bell Systems mobile telephone. Compare that to the last 12 months, during which 160 million new customers signed up to the GSM network.

The Association believes that this growth will continue as operators move to offer 3G (third generation ) services. It said that there are now 140 GPRS (general packet radio signal) enabled networks up and running, with 40 more on the way.

The introduction of these new services paves the way for new mobile applications like MMS (mobile multimedia services), which allows users to send picture messages, and other wireless applications like mobile email and web surfing.