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2009 results are in: wireless subscriber growth rebounds while broadband falters

10 Mar 2010

Is the telecoms glass half full or half empty? 2009 was certainly a very mixed year for the industry. Now that the year-end numbers are in, TeleGeography can report that global subscriber growth figures were actually pretty decent, with wireless increasing by 15% during the year and broadband by 14%. However, this did not result in substantial revenue gains for service providers. Suffering from the double whammy of recessionary pressures in developed markets and overheated price competition in developing markets, the top 20 service providers registered less than 2% growth in their aggregated annual revenues, most of which was the result of M&A activity. There was little or no year-end seasonal revenue uptick for the service providers, and Q4 revenues only just surpassed those of the same period of 2008.

The ‘half full’ approach reveals that not only did wireless growth come in at 15%, but on a quarterly basis the growth rate bounced back in Q3 and Q4 from a 3.3% low seen in Q2. That bodes well for the double-digit annual growth that is forecast for this year and next. By the end of 2011 the number of wireless subscribers will approach six billion. Fixed broadband tells a slightly different tale. Q4 was a little softer than anticipated, and while it is dangerous to read too much into a small growth rate reduction in a single quarter, it is possible that the short-term market ceiling for fixed broadband may be a little lower than predicted. TeleGeography will be re-running its in-depth broadband forecast model over the next month to find out. It is still likely that fixed broadband subscribers will be close to the 600 million mark by the end of next year.

On a regional basis, Q4 and the final results for 2009 brought few surprises. Wireless subscriber growth in Western Europe has slowed to a crawl, with North America and Eastern Europe faring little better. While growth rates in all other regions were higher, it is the Asia & Pacific region that is generating almost two-thirds of all subscriber net additions. India and China continue to account for over 70% of the new wireless subscribers for the Asia & Pacific region, with Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh being the next largest contributors. Broadband is following a similar pattern, though not quite as extreme.

’While wireless prices tumble and come within reach of many poorer populations, broadband remains a luxury that is well beyond the reach of most,’ said TeleGeography’s John Dinsdale. ‘China and India are both in the top 10 list of broadband growth countries, but they do not dominate it. That top 10 also includes four of the richest countries, Russia and three Latin American countries,’ added Dinsdale.

TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Insight provides detailed subscriber and market forecasts for over 160 countries and is a companion to the GlobalComms Database, a regularly updated online database of wireline, wireless and broadband competition. No other telecoms market research service rivals their collective geographic scope and depth of coverage.

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