Global revenues from mobile data services increased 24 per cent year on year in 2008, delivering around 15 per cent of all revenues generated by mobile operators worldwide.
Statistics released by industry analyst Informa Telecoms & Media this week found that revenues generated by non-voice services reached $188.7bn in 2008.
And while the majority of the non-voice revenues are still SMS-based, at the end of 2008, $75.1bn, or 40 per cent of this revenue stream came from non-SMS services, bolstered by the deployment of technologies such as HSPA and the growing demand for data-optimised devices such the Apple iPhone.
Informa principal analyst, Nick Jotischky, said: “Non-voice services are becoming a central plank to mobile operator strategies at a time of increasingly high penetration rates, low voice tariffs and intense competition. Not only can data services help to keep the offerings of mobile operators more relevant and distinct from their competitors, but they can also help to raise ARPU levels and generate new customers.”
Jotischky said the advance of mobile broadband has been a key feature of this growth, with Informa putting the total number of subscriptions at 178.2 million at the end of 2008. This represents extraordinary growth given that Verizon, the largest operator in terms of mobile broadband subscriber numbers (24.245 million), only registered its first such subscribers at the end of 2004.
But when looked at regionally, there is a considerable disparity in the significance of non-voice revenues, with just over a fifth of the total $192.8bn revenues generated by mobile operators in North America in 2008 coming from non-voice services, as opposed to 5 per cent of the $71.1bn revenues from mobile operators in Africa.
The analyst also warns that there appears to have been a slowdown in data revenues reported by operators during the fourth quarter of 2008, leaving a question over whether the global economic downturn has left its mark. “Globally, data revenues remained flat in the fourth quarter at just below $49bn”, Jotischky said. “The fear is that global macroeconomic conditions have had an impact on discretionary consumer spend, and especially in North America and parts of Europe. If this trend continues into 2009, there is a real danger that any slowdown in non-voice usage will have an impact on mobile operator business strategies.”