European mobile service providers seem to be having a tougher time sustaining their average revenue per user than U.S. mobile operators, and voice revenues are the problem.
Some might attribute the weakness to the effects of the Great Recession of 2008, but the fundamental trend seems to have been in place for some time. Others will speculate about growing use of over the top VoIP services.
Mobile average revenue per user in Western Europe declined by 9.1 percent cumulatively during 2009 and 2010, the first two years of the most recent recession, according to analysts at the Yankee Group (News - Alert).
But it isn't clear whether the Great Recession played a significant role in ARPU trends, since ARPU had been falling before the advent of the recession.
European mobile data use has so far failed to compensate for the sharp decline in mobile voice revenue, according to Wireless Intelligence. Mobile ARPU across the 27 European Union (EU27) countries has fallen by 20 percent over the last three years, dropping from 25 euros in 2007 to 20 euros in 2010 on average.
This fall has been caused primarily by ongoing declines in the average per-minute price for voice calls, which dropped from euros 16 to euros 14 in the EU27 mobile markets over the period.
While major European operators have pointed to growth in mobile data as a key tool to offset these declines, Wireless Intelligence research shows that revenue growth from non-voice services has helped to stabilize ARPU but is not yet fully compensating for falling voice revenue.
Non-voice revenue (including messaging) rose by just one euro on average over the last three years to around six euros. Within this, mobile data ARPU has doubled to just under three euros but still accounts for less than 15 percent of total ARPU.
In the United States, ARPU is roughly flat, according to the latest CTIA (News - Alert) data. U.S. ARPU flat
Mobile end-user average revenue per user dropped between six percent and nine percent globally, in the third quarter of 2009, says ABI Research (News - Alert).
In the U.S. market, overall ARPU decreased by $0.45. Average voice ARPU declined by $0.98 while the average data ARPU grew by $0.53, according to mobile analyst Chetan Sharma (News - Alert).
By the end of 2009, average voice ARPU was less than $10 a month while data ARPU was about $15 a month. But average blended ARPU has been flat at around $49.50 since 2003, ABI research argues.
ABI Research estimates that ARPU decline is likely to flatten out in developed markets in Europe, as it has in North America, as mobile data revenue increasingly replaces falling voice revenue, as it has in the United States. ARPU declines globally But not every observer is that sanguine. Wireless Intelligence data seems to suggest a tougher marketplace.
If Europe slips into recession again in 2012, customers will change their mobile usage and spending habits, some would suggest. Voice and messaging revenue will suffer most, while spending on the mobile Web and apps will hold up relatively well, analysts at the Yankee Group predict.
European wireless operators have stable data revenue, but haven't been able to increase overall ARPU or data ARPU, says Wireless Intelligence. And overall ARPU is still on the decline because of the fall-off in voice revenues. European carriers struggle
Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Rich Steeves