Connections to mobile telecoms services will increase 11% worldwide this year, to reach 5.6 billion, while mobile data service revenue will increase 22.5% year-to-year, growing from $257 billion to total $314.7 billion, according to new research from Gartner.

Looking further out, worldwide mobile connections will grow steadily and reach 7.4 billion in 2015 and mobile data revenue will total $552 billion, Gartner forecasts.

Growth in the number of mobile connections, increasing availability of higher speed, data-centric mobile networks, smartphones and data-consuming content and applications will be the four major mobile data traffic drivers.

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“Mobile data traffic will increase significantly as more people will have access to mobile data networks, there is a migration toward smartphones and an increase in sales of media tablets,” said Jessica Ekholm, principal research analyst at Gartner. “Mobile data volumes will continue to grow as mobile data networks become faster and more ubiquitous, while at the same time the number of data users and data usage per user is expected to grow.”

Service providers are going to be squeezed at some point, as revenue growth fails to keep pace with mobile connections and usage. “Data revenue will continue to grow but at a much slower rate,” Ms. Ekholm said. “This is causing a decoupling between revenue and data traffic, and it is also creating an increase in network costs for carriers as they try to sustain growing data traffic.”

In addition, mobile data usage per connection will increase through 2015, adding strain to service providers’ networks.

Users will increasingly consider mobile data as a necessity, as opposed to luxury or a “nice-to-have” service over time, according to Ekholm.

Moving toward more flexible, personalized data plans will help providers attract larger mobile data subscriber bases. The faster upload and download speeds now available to subscribers as a result of service providers’ network upgrades will also help attract larger user bases, she added.

“What carriers currently need are innovative ways to increase data revenue while finding smart solutions to manage a growing demand in data,” commented Sylvain Fabre, research director at Gartner.

“Ultimately, it will be the consumer who chooses the content he or she wants to use, and carriers need to ensure that the quality of experience is good. A substandard user experience may lead to higher churn.”

Service providers would be well served by investigating the pros and cons of various alternative personalized pricing plans, such as tiered pricing, a la carte pricing and usage-based plans, according to Gartner analysts. Offering greater flexibility in pricing and introducing add-on pricing models, where subscribers pay to add data access when they want it, as well as paying to add paying for additional usage and additional speed, and charging a fee for VoIP or gaming.

“Carriers should focus on increasing the level of clarity and the transparency of their mobile data contracts in order to make the majority of customers feel more at ease in using data services. This is particularly important when it comes to data roaming,” Ms. Ekholm said. “Offering clients various ways of being able to track and monitor their data usage would help carriers receive a larger amount of revenue from more profitable lower-usage, medium-pay users.”

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