Wireless broadband growth outstripping wireline

The fast-growing popularity of smartphones and tablet PCs is driving the progress of mobile broadband services, with wireless broadband subscriptions in OECD countries estimated to have exceeded 500m by the end of 2010, up more than 10 per cent from six months earlier, according to new figures from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Fixed broadband subscriptions meanwhile reached 300m for the first time last year, but growth slowed to 6 per cent year-on-year – the lowest growth rate since the OECD started collecting broadband statistics just over a decade ago.

The Netherlands and Switzerland lead the table for wireline broadband, with 38.1 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, followed by Denmark (37.7) and Norway (34.6). Fibre subscriptions continue to grow and account for 12.3 per cent of all fixed broadband subscriptions, according to the report.

DSL remains the most popular technology for fixed broadband, accounting for 57.6 per cent of all subscriptions, followed by cable with 29.4 per cent. The leading country for fibre broadband is Japan, where it accounts for 58 per cent of all fixed broadband subscriptions, followed by South Korea with 55 per cent, the Slovak Republic with 29 per cent and Sweden with 26 per cent.

South Korea is the leading country for wireless broadband subscriptions, with 89.8 per 100 inhabitants, followed by Finland with 84.8, Sweden with 82.9 and Norway with 79.9. This compares to an OECD average of 41.6 and a total of just under 512m.

Growth in mobile broadband has been fuelled by inexpensive, flat-rate mobile data plans, according to the organisation, which notes that the communications sector has emerged from the financial crisis with a resilience and underlying strength that reflects its critical role in the global economy.

Key factors in the sector’s continuing health are expected to include long contract durations for mobile operators, the growing popularity of bundled offers of television, mobile and fixed telephony, and the fact that communication services are increasingly perceived as non-discretionary spending items. Households looking to cut spending seem to be economising in other areas, at least as a first measure, according to the report.

While the increasing prevalence of bundled services has also played a role in this shift by reinforcing customer loyalty and reducing churn, the OECD warns that the complexity of some bundled offers makes them increasingly hard to interpret and poses additional challenges for consumers trying to compare prices and make informed decisions. In addition, bundling may make it harder for users to switch providers or drop a service.

The OECD has 34 member states, which are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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