In fewer than twenty years, mobile phones have gone from being rare and expensive pieces of equipment used by businesses to a pervasive low-cost personal item. In many countries, mobile phones now outnumber land-line telephones, with most adults and many children now owning mobile phones. In the United States, 50% of children own mobile phones. It is not uncommon for young adults to simply own a mobile phone instead of a land-line for their residence. In some developing countries, where there is little existing fixed-line infrastructure, the mobile phone has become widespread. According to the CIA World Factbook the UK now has more mobile phones than people .
With high levels of mobile telephone penetration, a mobile culture has evolved, where the phone becomes a key social tool, and people rely on their mobile phone address book to keep in touch with their friends. Many people keep in touch using SMS, and a whole culture of "texting" has developed from this. The commercial market in SMS's is growing. Many phones even offer Instant Messenger services to increase the simplicity and ease of texting on phones. Cellular phones in Japan, offering Internet capabilities such as NTT DoCoMo's i-mode, offer text messaging via standard e-mail.
The mobile phone itself has also become a totemic and fashion object, with users decorating, customizing, and accessorizing their mobile phones to reflect their personality. This has emerged as its own industry. The sale of commercial ringtones exceeded $2.5 billion in 2004 .
The use of a mobile phone is prohibited in some rail carriagesMobile phone etiquette has become an important issue with mobiles ringing at funerals, weddings, movies, and plays. Users often speak at increased volume which has led to places like bookshops, libraries, movie theatres, doctor's offices, and houses of worship posting signs prohibiting the use of mobile phones, and in some places installing signal jamming equipment to prevent usage (although in many countries, e.g. the United States, such equipment is illegal). Transportation providers, particularly those doing long-distance services, often offer a "quiet car" where phone use is prohibited, much like the designated non-smoking cars in the past. Mobile phone use on aircraft is also prohibited, because of concerns of possible interference with aircraft radio communications, although the airline Emirates have announced plans to allow limited celluar phone usage on some flights. Most schools in the U.S prohibit cell phones due to the high amount of class disruptions due to their use, and due to the possibility of photographing someone (without consent).
Camera phones and videophones that can capture video and take photographs are increasingly being used by companies like Scoopt to cover breaking news. Stories like the London Bombings, the Indian Ocean Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina have been reported on by camera phone users on photo sharing sites like Flickr.
In Japan, cellular phone companies provide immediate notification of earthquakes and other natural disasters to their customers free of charge. In the event of an emergency, disaster response crews can locate trapped or injured people using the signals from their mobile phones; an interactive menu accessible through the phone's Internet browser notifies the company if the user is safe or in distress.