The North American wireless market is approaching saturation. A new eMarketer report looks at what comes next for mobile phone usage. Great charts.

North America, and the US in particular, has moved to the fore on the global wireless stage.

Mobile phone service revenues have more than tripled since 1998, roughly keeping pace with growth in the subscriber population. Average monthly bills likewise have increased: after touching a low of $39.43 in December 1998, bills have risen to $50.64 as of December 2004, the best since 1995.

However, in North America subscriber growth is reaching its peak — approaching saturation at the 70%-80% range. That doesn’t mean the end of growth, says Noah Elkin, Senior Analyst at eMarketer and author of the North America Wireless Trends report. “Communication may start with voice,” he says, “but operators are readying for the day when it is but one of many formats that consumers use.”

As the number of nationwide carriers consolidates, mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) are proliferating. With a new array of choices for wireless and converged telephony services available to consumers, the industry is set for its next stage of development.

“Carriers have not given up on attracting subscribers and taking advantage of rivals’ customer churn for new business, but as the market matures, they largely will be focused on the quality, not quantity, of users, leaving the decreasing population of those without wireless service to niche MVNOs that will lease capacity from the major operators,” says Dr. Elkin. “Upselling is the name of the game. Simple voice is out and multimedia content and data services are in—or so operators hope.”

More here.