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Mobile broadband use surges but pay-off some way out

27 августа 2008

Analysts suggest mobile data will remain a minority revenue stream for operators for a few years.

The voracious demand for mobile broadband has seen global subscriber numbers quadruple in one year, but the full potential of broadband on the go won't be realized for some time, analysts say.

According to data from the GSMA, the global trade group that represents mobile operators using the GSM standard, more than 50 million devices - be they mobile handsets, USB modems or data cards - are enabled for mobile broadband using the HSPA standard, part of the GSM technology used by around 85% of mobile operators around the world.

And while evidence from the mobile operators lends credence to the phenomenal rise of mobile data, there hasn't been a concomitant increase in share of revenue.

Vodafone Group PLC's most recent results for the first quarter ended June 30 showed a 51% rise in data revenue across the company, to GBP664 million, but this is still not yet 7% of total sales.

And in
Europe, where mobile operators are struggling with declines in voice revenue amid tighter regulation and tough competition, Vodafone reported a 42% rise in data revenue as sales of devices that allow its subscribers to surf the internet on their laptops jumped 84%. Despite this, European data revenue still accounts for only 7.7% of Vodafone's total revenue in the region.

James Barford, an analyst with Enders Analysis, says he expects data to remain a minority revenue stream for the next few years.

Similarly, John Delaney, research director at telecom research and consulting firm IDC, forecasts the share of consumer non-SMS data revenue to grow to 11% in
Western Europe by the end of 2012 from 5% today, still very much a minority revenue stream. He predicts voice revenue, meanwhile, to remain the largest generator of sales, albeit falling to 72% from 80% in five years' time.

Further than five years out, it's difficult to predict exactly when the full potential of mobile data will be achieved, but Delaney says of voice and data that "one is growing fast and one is shrinking slowly," so data will become more and more important over time.

The race for a share of the mobile broadband market has pushed the price down dramatically over the past few months, settling around GBP15 a month in the
U.K. for up to three gigabytes of usage. While this has spurred a rapid rise in uptake and new connections, it has also dragged down one of the mobile industry's key performance indicators - average revenue per user.

Voice contracts typically generate around GBP30 to GBP40 of monthly revenue per user, around double that of mobile broadband, so the new mix of voice and mobile customers has led to lower ARPU.

Hutchison Whampoa's 3 Group, which operates third-generation networks in several European countries and which has used its 3G capabilities to push its mobile broadband offering hard, Thursday reported a 7% decline in ARPU in the six months to June 30, which it attributed partly to mobile broadband uptake.

Vodafone also saw first-quarter ARPU decline year-on-year in some of its European markets and counts among the culprits the growth of mobile broadband and dongles - the USB modem sticks that enable laptop connectivity - which has gathered significant momentum in the past 12 months.

But while ARPU may suffer, the rise of mobile broadband is at least counteracting the effect of slowing growth in voice revenue, which has borne the brunt of European Union regulation and a fiercely competitive mobile environment.

Technologically, the surge in mobile broadband has to some extent been a victim of its own success.

In the same way that busy evening internet use causes congestion on the fixed-line network, so mobile broadband has yet to produce consistent speeds during peak hours and, in non-urban areas, for it to be able to compete with fixed line as an alternative rather than an addendum.

telecom regulator Ofcom reported that 68% of people with mobile broadband in the U.K.(around 6% of the country's total internet users in the first quarter of 2008) used it in addition to, not instead of, a fixed internet connection.

And compared with voice, revenue from mobile broadband is massively disproportionate to the network capacity required.

Right now, though, capacity isn't a problem. Dan Warren, director of technology at the GSMA, says mobile operators have the opportunity to make broadband speeds six times faster with some nominal investment, before having to pay for the major technology and hardware upgrades that strain capital expenditure budgets.

At the moment, the GSMA says peak data speeds worldwide are between 3.6 megabits per second and 7.2Mbps, which translates to end-user speeds of around 1Mbps - comparable to the average speeds for fixed-line broadband services.

To increase these speeds, mobile operators need to build out their infrastructure to support faster data rates, walking a delicate line between investment, demand and customer satisfaction.

argues that if services are good enough, customers will continue to buy mobile broadband, prompting more infrastructure investment to support more users and improve data rates.

This is already happening, though there is a long way to go before operators reach the top speed of 42Mpbs that the current technology allows.

"None of this is news to mobile operators, they all have these issues (with peak data traffic congestion). They know they need to continue to balance investment and customer satisfaction,"
Warren said.

Источник: Total Telecom

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