Commentators have been predicting the explosion of the mobile web for years now, but a couple of factors suggest that this year they may be right.

Earlier this week the Mobile Data Association (MDA) announced that in December of last year 17 million people accessed the internet on their mobile phones.

This is an extraordinary number and one that requires further investigation, especially when they say that:

“[17 million people] equates to 23% of mobile users in [the] UK.”

Why? Because it suggests that there are more than 70 million mobile users in a country with a population of around 60 million.

However, even assuming that this actually refers to the number of mobiles from which the internet was accessed, it does suggest that accessing the internet from a mobile device is finally becoming the norm, rather than an activity for the digital elite.

This was reinforced when I had a meeting recently with a company called Flirtomatic. Their WAP site receives 109 million page impressions a month, putting it on a par with, if not slightly above, Google’s mobile version (and not far off of the web stats of a site like Guardian.co.uk).

At the same time as these, frankly incredible, figures were released by the MDA, Umbro took out a full page ad on the back cover of yesterday’s London Paper. There was nothing inherently amazing about it (other than the fact that it featured Michael Owen who didn’t even end up playing for England) except for the fact that it included a QR code…

These codes are in widespread use in South East Asia, but have so far not seen massive exposure in the UK. The way in which the QR code was used in the Umbro ad was not particularly impressive, as it simply amounted to displaying a URL (which was also on the ad anyway) that pointed to a page announcing that Umbro Mobile would be arriving soon. A case of ‘nothing to see here’ in many ways.

Except the very fact that a brand like Umbro, which is aiming at a distinctly mass-market audience, is attempting to use QR (and to educate its consumers on what they are) is, for me at least, a bit of a tipping point; it’s almost akin to when BBC.co.uk started incorporating social bookmarking chicklets on all its articles.

And finally, when you consider the fact that Google recently updated the algorithm on its mobile version, to automatically display results that would be more useful to mobile users, it really does seem like 2008 could be the year the mobile web starts to tip.

So maybe it’s time to start considering the needs of mobile users, and to investigate opportunities in mobile. Think about SEO for mobile sites, rather than just the website. And perhaps look into incorporating QR codes into your next marketing campaign.