NEW YORK: Seven billion apps were downloaded by mobile phone users around the world last year, generating more than $4 billion (€3.0bn; £2.6bn) in revenue, a new study has found.

Chetan Sharma, the consultancy, assessed trading conditions in 40 countries across the globe, and reported that the telecoms category had proved relatively resilient during the economic downturn.

More specifically, it estimated there were 4.6 billion live mobile subscriptions by the end of 2009, including 750 million in China and 525 million in India.

The revenues recorded by the telecoms industry as a whole reached $1.1 trillion in this period, some $220bn of which was attributable to data and information, and the rest to voice calls.

At present, China Mobile, Vodafone, AT&T and Verizon are the only members of an "exclusive club" of operators which generate annual revenues of at least $50bn.

Elsewhere, five firms crossed the 100 million subscriber mark in 2009, in the form of Bharti Airtel in India, MTN in South Africa, Orascom in Egypt, Etisalat in the UAE and MTS in Russia.

NTT DoCoMo, which is based in Japan, was found to be the largest player with regard to data revenues, drawing $16bn, or 46% of its overall returns, from this channel last year.

It was followed in the rankings by Verizon, China Mobile, AT&T and KDDI on this measure, with each of these organisations posting totals of more than $10bn.

By region, the US contributed $40bn worth of data sales – up by 40% on an annual basis – with Japan on $32.5bn and China on $20.3bn.

Chetan Sharma also revealed that 7 billion apps were downloaded in 2009, giving this market a value of $4.1bn in all.

Asia delivered the highest percentage of downloads, but North America supplied the majority of revenues, just 12% of which were derived from mobile advertising.

Looking more broadly, messaging still accounted for the "lion's share" of expenditure on data services, although mobile music, games, television, video and advertising "chipped away" at its position.

"As we sit at the cusp of the iPad era, there is a bigger transformation taking place, and that is of the connected consumer electronic devices," Chetan Sharma added.

Further predictions for this year included the growth of m-commerce, particularly in Japan, where it is "expected to do much better than mobile advertising."

"Though not much talked about, enterprise applications are also being adopted widely, especially in North America, as more workers become mobile and corporations seek efficiencies in their operations and supply-chain," the consultancy's report said.

Data sourced from Chetan Sharma; additional content by Warc staff