Economic conditions reducing mobile user spend

Mobile end user average revenue per user dropped between 5% and 15% year on year in the fourth quarter of 2008 compared to the previous year, according to ABI Research.

China, India, and a number of other Asian markets dropped more than 10%. In Europe the ARPU contraction was in the range of -5 to -8%. In North America, year on year ARPU did not nosedive, as ARPUs were buoyed by mobile data. In South America, markets were more mixed with some markets deflating inline and others, like Brazil, managing to hold up ARPUs.

Mobile data (messaging and mobile internet) contributes 38% of Japanese ARPUs, and many European operators depend on mobile data for over 25% to 30% of their ARPU.

ABI Research vice president, Jake Saunders, commented: “The evolution to LTE, along with 3.5G technologies, is not just about offering end users faster download speeds. It is also about capacity. Our research into mobile network traffic shows that the ramp-up in traffic is effectively exponential. Global terabits transferred per month are expected to grow 155% between 2008 and 2009, from to 81,670 terabits to 31,720.”

One of the fastest growing revenue segments for mobile operators is mobile Internet, driven by access fees and data traffic. Internet-related revenues grew between 15% and 25% year on year for the fourth quarter of 2008. ABI Research expects absolute mobile internet revenues to continue growing robustly in spite of the economic downturn in 2009. Improvements in work, personal productivity, and organization are proving to be strong draws to mobile data applications.

End user voice traffic still grew between 2% and 10% depending on the market, but revenue and minutes continues to decline. End users are embracing mobile data applications such as messaging, web browsing and game downloads. “There is money to be made from these services,” said Saunders, “But operators need to manage traffic loads carefully. A maxed-out base station can equate to thousands of dollars in lost revenue.”