Recent announcements by major handset manufacturers show that the appetite for smartphones continues to grow strongly. On Tuesday, Apple announced that it had sold 14.1 million iPhones in the third quarter of 2010, which was 91% higher than the same period in 2009. It took 18 months to sell this many iPhones when it was first launched in 2007. On Thursday, Nokia revealed that it sold 26.5 million smartphones in the third quarter, up by 61% from the previous year. Last month RIM announced that it had sold 12.1 million Blackberrys in the three months to 28 August 2010.
We already know that the number of broadband dongles and data cards is also increasing rapidly, with the European Commission reporting that they almost doubled in number during 2009, to 5.2% penetration of the European Union population by January 2010.
While the strong growth in the uptake of smartphones and dongles is good news for their manufacturers, it’s a mixed blessing for mobile network operators. In principle they create a raft of new opportunities for revenue creation, but it may not be easy for operators to take advantage of these. Over the last ten years, as the services on offer to mobile customers have become increasingly sophisticated, mobile operator ARPU has remained stubbornly flat. However, as more of these devices enter the market and their broadband services are used increasingly heavily, the operators will face the challenge of coping with a rapid increase and a changing mix of traffic carried by their networks.
By 2014, broadband devices will generate over 98% of all traffic on cellular networks in developed markets, as illustrated in the chart below (taken from our report on Will 3G Networks Cope?). The investment in network expansion needed to keep ahead of these changes may mean that mobile network operators will be running much harder simply to stand still.