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Mobile Broadband Helping Service Providers

Over 15 percent of revenues generated by mobile operators globally came from non-voice services in 2008. According to the Informa Telecoms & Media market study, actual revenues comprising data services reached $188.7 billion in 2008, representing a 24 percent year-on-year increase.

"This is an important finding" commented Informa principal analyst, Nick Jotischky, "as non-voice services are becoming a central plank to mobile operator strategies at a time of increasingly high penetration rates, low voice tariffs and intense competition."

Not only can data services help to keep the offerings of mobile operators more relevant and distinct from their competitors, but they can also help to raise ARPU levels and generate new customers.

Looked at regionally, there is a considerable disparity in the significance of non-voice revenues -- at the top end, just over a fifth of the total $192.8 billion revenues generated by mobile operators in North America in 2008 comes now from non-voice services, as opposed to 5 percent of the $71.1 billion revenues from mobile operators in Africa.

The majority of the $188.7 billion of non-voice revenues are still SMS-based, but at the end of 2008, $75.1 billion (40 percent) of this revenue was from non-SMS services. The deployment of advanced technologies (such as HSPA) and the growing demand for data-optimized devices such as Apple's iPhone have helped to accelerate the level of non-SMS spend.

The advance of mobile broadband has been a key feature of the telecommunications industry in the past year with Informa putting the total number of subscriptions at 178.2 million at the end of 2008.

This represents extraordinary growth given that Verizon, the largest operator in terms of mobile broadband subscriber numbers (24.245 million), only registered its first such subscribers at the end of 2004.

Given that it took the best part of 15 years to register the first 178 million mobile subscribers globally, this represents a rapid evolution path for mobile broadband.

There are some warning signs, however, for the global mobile industry. There appears to have been a slowdown in data revenues reported by operators during the fourth quarter of 2008. While, some of this can be explained away by currency fluctuations, there is a question over whether the global economic downturn has left its mark.

"Globally, data revenues remained flat in the fourth quarter at just below $49 billion," Jotischky comments, "and the fear is that global macroeconomic conditions have had an impact on discretionary consumer spend, and especially in North America and parts of Europe."

If this trend continues into 2009, there is a real danger that any slowdown in non-voice usage will have an impact on mobile operator business strategies.

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