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Mobile sector looks to data services

16 апреля 2008

When AT&T announces its first-quarter results next Tuesday, investors will be looking for evidence that the recent surge in wireless data revenues at US telecoms companies is continuing.

Revenues from wireless data services in the US rose 53 per cent to $23bn last year according to figures prepared for CTIA Wireless, a Washington-based industry trade group. Overall, revenue from e-mail, text and picture messaging, and other non-voice services accounts for about 17 per cent of total wireless revenues.

US mobile network operators including AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, the joint venture between Verizon Communications and Britain’s Vodafone, are counting on growing revenues from mobile data services such as wireless e-mail, web browsing and mobile TV to offset flat, or in some cases declining, wireless voice revenues.

While income from voice calls continues to make up the bulk of mobile revenues, fierce competition and an expected slowdown in subscriber growth as the percentage of the US population with a mobile phone pushes towards 100 per cent, mean that growth in mobile data is likely to become an increasingly critical measure for US carriers.

Most are counting on continued growth in revenues and profits from their wireless operations to offset steeply declining revenues from residential phone lines as consumers abandon fixed-access lines.

AT&T has seen its average revenue per user from data services including wireless e-mail surge, fuelled in part by the success of Apple’s iPhone, which AT&T has an exclusive right to sell in the
Wireless data revenues at the San Antonio-based group increased 58 per cent last year and in the fourth quarter, data comprised 20 per cent of AT&T’s wireless service income, up from less than 15 per cent in the last quarter of 2006.

“iPhone owners are big data users,” says Ralph de
la Vega, president of AT&T’s mobile unit. During a speech to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, he described Apple’s iPhone as “a game-changer”, noting that 95 per cent of iPhone owners regularly surfed the mobile web, even though 30 per cent had never done so before owning an iPhone.

“There isn’t a device that’s easier to use,” Mr de
la Vega said. “[The iPhone] proves that price resistance is only as strong as the user experience is weak.”

Over half of iPhone owners have also watched videos on YouTube, fuelling growing optimism that mobile TV services including Qualcomm’s MediaFlo, which AT&T plans to launch next month, may finally take off.

Like AT&T, Verizon, which reports first-quarter results later this month, is also betting mobile data services will build on the success of text messaging and wireless e-mail and drive data usage higher.

Data revenues at Verizon Wireless, the second-largest US telecoms group, jumped 53 per cent jump last year and data now accounts for 21 per cent of the carrier’s wireless service revenues.

Indeed, as Research in Motion, the Canadian manufacturer of the BlackBerry family of smartphones predicted, the success of the iPhone appears to have spurred consumer interest in smartphones and ‘data centric’ devices.
Earlier this month, RIM said it sold a record 4.4m Blackberrys in its fiscal fourth quarter, boosting its subscriber base by 32 per cent.

In the US, the number of smartphone users doubled last year to about 14.6m according to analysts at M:Metrics – much faster than the rate of growth for mobile phones generally.

Источник: Financial Times

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