Growth in mobile broadband data subscriptions, which had been consistently racking up double-digit quarter-to-quarter growth rates fell drastically to 5% in Q4 2008. This according to . PC data card uptake grew rapidly last year as a whole, however, increasing 163% year-to-year as compared to 157% in 2007. comScore’s study analyzed data collected from computers accessing the Internet through mobile broadband ISPs, which provide Internet access by passing traffic across 3G cellular telecommunications networks rather than Wi-Fi connections.

“The PC data card market is clearly in the early stages of its adoption curve, with the overall number of subscribers multiplying in the past few years,” comScore senior VP Serge Matta said in a media release. “That said, we’ve observed a significant deceleration in subscriber growth during Q4 2008 coinciding with the economic downturn, an indication that mobile broadband service may still be seen by many as a luxury rather than a necessity.”

That assessment does not bode well for burgeoning mobile broadband providers like and their partners. These new mobile broadband players are just now ramping up their product portfolio of mobile broadband offerings. This data suggests its not great timing. Clearwire will argue their value surpasses current 3G mobile broadband offerings and therefore may not be as susceptible to these market downturns. The proof will be in the pudding though – we’ll soon see how 4G WiMAX offerings weather these tough economic times.

Looking to determine whether subscribers treat mobile broadband as an “incremental” means of accessing the Internet as opposed to being just a shift in usage time between access points, comScore compared mobile broadband PC subscribers’ usage habits with that of the general US population. “When looking at the population in aggregate, the results indicated that PC data card usage actually represents a time-shift in Internet consumption, as PC data card users spent nearly the same amount of time online (89 hours) as typical U.S. Internet users (90 hours) during Q4 2008,” according to the company. “Of PC data card users with both a PC data card and a wireline ISP, approximately 25 percent of their total online time (22 hours) was spent using a PC data card.”

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