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Although mobile broadband ARPU (average revenue per user) has not completely offset declines in voice revenue for mobile operators, it has slightly stabilised falling blended ARPUs. Mostly for those operators who have deployed mobile broadband networks and built up a high level of smartphone penetration within their customer base.

 

The total worldwide revenue for the cellular industry passed the US$1 trillion mark in 2009 and it is expected to reach US$1.1 trillion this year, according to analyst firm Wireless Intelligence. However, the rapidly increasing number of global mobile connections combined with intensifying competition in the industry has, over time, inevitably forced down ARPU.

 

There are now more than 800 mobile operators worldwide, an increase of more than 40% over the last ten years. And, the race by operators to build market share in some developing countries (such as those in the Indian subcontinent or East Africa) caused call prices to drop as low as US$0.01 per minute in 2011. The fact that these rates are generally only available for on-net calls has also led to an abundance of multiple SIM users in some markets, thereby driving ARPU down further.


The multiple SIM effect has also impacted negatively on ARPU in high-penetration markets in the developed world, albeit in a different way, as people acquire second and third devices/connections which they then tend to use less than their primary one. Another feature of these mature markets is the establishment of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), which can further lower ARPU by expanding the market into lower-spending segments, adds Wireless Intelligence.


As a result of all these factors, blended ARPU, that is the average of all service revenue across the customer base expressed monthly, has declined at the worldwide level from US$44 in 2001 to $16 ten years later – or by 10% each year on average. Despite positive trends in global data revenues, voice services remain the core revenue generator for most operators and still represent 70% of the cellular industry’s total revenue.

 

The global voice ARPU has changed since 2001, when the use of messaging and other services was still at a relatively low level. Subsequently, voice ARPU at that time was higher than blended ARPU at around US$46, yet voice has since declined at a rate of 13% per annum – somewhat faster than blended ARPU – and currently stands at US$12. The widening gap between voice and blended ARPU has come about largely as a result of the increasing popularity of messaging and data services.


The commoditisation of messaging services, mainly through ‘unlimited’ tariffs and bundled packages, has limited their potential as a revenue generator, leaving data - and particularly the promotion of smartphones and mobile broadband services - to form the core of most major operators’ revenue growth strategies.

--------Wireless Intelligence

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