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Half of all voice traffic may originate on mobile phones by 2008, but mobile operators will not all benefit

As the pace of fixed-mobile substitution (FMS) accelerates, not all mobile operators are benefiting, according to the report, Fixed-Mobile Substitution in Western Europe: causes and effects, written by Unwired Insight.

“FMS is generally seen as a threat for fixed operators and an opportunity for mobile operators. However, while fixed operators’ voice call revenue is falling substantially due to FMS, not all mobile operators are seeing revenue gains as a result,” says Dr Alastair Brydon, co-author of the report. “To avoid declines in voice ARPU, mobile operators need to achieve significant increases in usage to compensate for price cuts, and some operators are doing much better than others.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • Fixed-mobile substitution is accelerating. If this increasing pace continues, 50% of all voice traffic will originate on mobile phones by 2008 in Western Europe. In principle, this should be good for mobile operators.
  • Mobile operators must be wary of using price cuts as the primary means of encouraging FMS. Drastic cuts in mobile pricing can destroy the potential benefits of FMS for mobile operators. Mobile operators in Finland and Portugal have achieved significantly higher levels of FMS than in other countries but have sacrificed revenue to do so. In Finland the proportion of voice traffic originating on mobile phones rose from 55% in 2004 to 70% in 2006. The average spend per mobile minute dropped by 34% to EUR0.10, but mobile usage per capita increased by only 23%, resulting in a net fall in ARPU.
  • Mobile operators must be smarter in designing their tariffs and avoid sacrificing the price premium of mobile voice over fixed voice. In Austria, France and Spain, operators have succeeded in capturing a large proportion of voice traffic without substantial price cuts. In Spain operators were able to achieve a 58% increase in mobile voice usage per capita in the period 2004-6, with a decline in voice spend per minute of only 7%.

“Home-zone pricing (low prices for calls made in the home but substantially higher prices for calls made elsewhere) has been successful in Germany, where the price premium of mobile over fixed was 351% in 2006,” says Dr Mark Heath, co-author of the report. “Eventually, the widespread introduction of femtocells will allow mobile operators to offer smart tariffs, while also boosting the quality of in-building coverage.”

Fixed-Mobile Substitution in Western Europe: causes and effects quantifies the true scale of FMS in Western Europe, in terms of fixed-line substitution and the migration of voice minutes from fixed to mobile networks. The report considers a wide range of key metrics, such as the proportion of households that are mobile-only; the proportion of voice traffic originating on a mobile network; voice usage per capita; voice spend per capita; fixed and mobile voice spend per minute; and the price premium of mobile voice over fixed voice. The report assesses how these metrics have changed over a two-year period, to provide insight into the rate of FMS and its effects.

Unwired Insight was established in 2001 and provides expert advice on wireless technology, mobile networks, devices and standards, including GSM, GPRS, DECT, UMTS and LTE.

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