At the start of the decade, India was pretty much a telecom backwater. No more. Last year it actually grew at a faster rate than China for the first time in new mobile phone connections—and it is set to expand more than three times as fast as the mainland in 2007, according to a new study by London-based research firm Wireless Intelligence. Last year, the number of mobile connections in India more than doubled to 142.2 million and that figure is expected to expand 48% to roughly 211 million by the end of 2007.

China is still the world’s biggest mobile phone market with an estimated 443 million mobile subscribers, according to Wireless Intelligence. However, the mainland’s market grew by only 18% and that pace will slow more in 2007 to about 14%, albeit these are still robust growth rates compared to saturated developed markets such as Western Europe and Japan. (The U.S. is forecast to grow by 10% in 2007.)

All this explains why global handset makers such as Nokia, Motorola and Samsung are shifting product development efforts and marketing strategies to emerging markets. Motorola for instance last November launched the Motofone in India after spending two years researching life in rural Indian villages to get a better fix on what sort of phones it needed to design. Market leader Nokia, which has invested heavily in emerging markets, late last year slashed the price of its basic monochrome model —the Nokia 1110—from $50 to $43. And it now has three phones in the sub-$50 range. Go here to read about the big market for cheap phones in India and here to see a sampling of what’s hot in India’s handset market.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE