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100,000,000 mobile Facebook users, own phone to come next?

February 12, 2010 revealed on Wednesday that more than 100m people use the social network on their mobile phones every month. That’s around a quarter of their total membership.

As seems to be the norm for Facebook at the moment, even with such big numbers, the growth rate is huge – in September it had 65m mobile users. That suggests the number is likely to double annually.

“We work with every major device manufacturer and many operators to ensure that we can provide the best possible mobile experience across the thousands of different devices, mobile operating systems and carriers you rely on,” wrote Chamath Palihapitiya on Facebook’s blog. (Chamath is the VP for “user growth, mobile and international”)

Subscribers to more than 80 independent operators in 32 countries can update their Facebook page via a text message. In the UK, Facebook is by some distance the most popular mobile internet site with 5m monthly uniques, according to the GSMA.

Like most operators and half of the tech world, Facebook will be in Barcelona next week for the wireless industry’s annual love-in, Mobile World Congress.

Along with excitement around iPad apps, a plethora of Android devices and the car as computing platform, and Opera Mini for iPhone, I predict strongly hope that Facebook will produce its own mobile handset in the not-too-distant future.

As a player with a global phonebook and the communication platform and applications platform that Facebook provides, I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t move into phones in a couple of years.

Facebook could easily follow the path blazed by Google, who somehow managed to convince most of the tech world that there was a material difference between the Nexus One and all the other Android handsets HTC has built.

And Facebook’s user numbers – already around 400 million and targeting 1 billion – mean they’d only need to convince a small percentage of people to buy their phone to become the size (if not bigger) of a small UK operator.

The numbers are so large and in these high-value handsets the profits are also enormous.

Sadly, a thought/concept is all it is likely to be. Given so many operators and handset makers are already incorporating Facebook services, why would it need to go to the expense and risk of making its own phone? For example, INQ has been making handsets tuned for Facebook and Twitter for years.

On the other hand, the lock-in factor, the convenience of importing what is already a living contacts book, and the greenfield potential for mobile advertising all lend the idea credible plausibility.

With Google coming after Facebook so squarely with Buzz, a buffer against a more “social” Android just makes sense, as Google’s mobile efforts parallel its increasing rivalry with Apple.

Would you buy a Facebook phone? Tell us in the comments!

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