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US Wireless Data Market Update – Q2 2009 August 8, 2009

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US Wireless Data Market Update – Q2 2009

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Executive Summary

The US wireless data market grew 7% Q/Q and 30% Y/Y to exceed $10.6B in mobile data service revenues and thus exceeded $10B for the second straight quarter. As we mentioned in our Q1 2009 research note, given the strong growth in data revenues shown by the top carriers and the increase in service revenues overall, the worst is over for the US mobile industry. In summary, the recession has been all but a tiny blip in its growth trend and the US mobile market has weathered the downward spiral in economy better than its counterparts in other developed nations. Of course, recession doesn’t treat all players equally, so, some have had a negative impact and will need more resources and effective strategies to claw back to the their previous market position.

The US subscription penetration was approximately 90.4% at the end of Q209. The current rate of net-adds (subscription) is approximately 3 every second (compared to a net gain in population of one person every 10 seconds). While the flailing economy hit certain segments of the wireless ecosystem hard esp. the infrastructure and handset segments, consumers haven’t really pulled back on the mobile data overall spending. Additionally, the CAPEX spending will stay strong in 2009 given the activity around 3G/4G deployments and trials. As expected, there was an increase of prepaid subscribers which dropped the overall revenues for some of the carriers.

As we mentioned in our last two research notes that this time around, the fate of the US mobile industry is more closely tied to the overall economy compared to the previous recessions. As the consumer sentiment improved over the last 3-4 months along with better than expected Q1-2 2009 earnings from corporations, the mobile industry is back on track. While the structural flaws in various industry segments remain, and the economy is a crisis away from the double dip, the outlook for the remainder of 2009 remains bright and we are expecting the overall data revenues to now increase by 32% compared to 2008 with a record-setting Q4.

US Wireless Industry in Recession – The light at the end of the tunnel is indeed not from the oncoming train

Note: For a detailed discussion of the US wireless industry in recessions, please see 2008 US Wireless Market Update.

Q2 2009 reported a much better 1% decline (compared to 6.4% in Q1). On an yearly basis, the GDP is expected to change by 3.2% for 2009 and the service revenues are expected to  account for 1.13% of the US economy by year-end.

As mentioned in the previous reports, while in the past, the recession hardly impacted the wireless industry, this time around; it is going to be more tied to the recession. In the past couple of months, the consumer sentiment has improved and the Q109 earnings have been better than expected. While there are still many structural flaws in the financial and housing industries and the unemployment is at a 25 year high of 9.4% (though it dropped in July from 9.5% in June), consumers are feeling better about the economy and their own prospects in it.

So, what does this mean? Well, the markets can still be volatile, but overall the market seems to be feeling better about the economy than it was in February. The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index though retreated from June is at a healthy 46.6.

Given that consumer sentiment is improving, it is clear that the US mobile data market is all but back from the recession. While some segments within the mobile industry might be suffering, there has been an increase in spending overall.

What to expect in the coming months?

We noted in our Q3 2008 note that we will get a better picture of the impact of the recession on the wireless industry in Q109 as it was the first full quarter after the seasonal holiday quarter. There are two micro trends that are clear. First, as expected, due to the high unemployment, the data card segment took a hit. It is starting to recover in due course as more of the workforce comes back over in the next 18 months.

Also, as expected, there was a shift from postpaid to prepaid in some user segments. For example, for T-Mobile, prepaid constituted 82% of the net-adds in Q209 up from 61% in Q109 and 21% in Q208. It is not clear if the good times will bring back the prepaid subscribers to the postpaid realm or like the consumers who are canceling their landline connections and moving to mobile, these customers will get used to savings and the prepaid lifestyle. The fight for the low-end customer is also having an impact on the traditional prepaid players and the price pressure is reducing their margins.

It is quite likely that 50-60% of such consumers don’t go back to postpaid thus permanently lowering the ARPU base for such customers and carriers who have experienced more postpaid to prepaid shift will have to make up for the lost revenues elsewhere.

The landline replacement by Mobile trend continued now reaching almost 24% by Q209. Messaging continues to grow. The messaging volume was up 15% and messaging revenue was up 11% QoQ. The data access (excluding data card) including flat rate data plan subscriptions have also show significant strength lately. In addition to smartphones, we are also seeing increased mobile data activity amongst feature phone users. With its expanding 3G network, T-Mobile like its peers has started to benefit from smartphone penetration reaching to 6% of its subscriber base. Overall, the US market will exceed 25% penetration of smartphones in Q3 2009.

The increased use of smartphones and datacards is putting a pressure on carrier networks and accelerating their strategies to deploy LTE/WiMAX. We estimate that by end of 2009, the US mobile data traffic is likely to exceed 400 petabytes, up 193% from 2008. To truly tackle the problem head-on, operators will need to adopt a multi-pronged strategy to manage their traffic more effectively. We discuss mobile data traffic in much more detail in our paper “Managing Growth and Profits in the Yottabyte Era.” (I will be giving keynotes on the subject at the Mobile Innovation Week in Sept and at the ISACA meeting in Oct)

The positive factors are helping negate the negative factors and given the strength of 3G and smartphone adoption, the increase in activity on the appstores front, and in general, a better awareness of mobile data services and applications amongst consumers, any decline due to the loss of data card revenue and postpaid transition to prepaid accounts has been taken care off. In particular, Verizon and AT&T have done really well. Smartphones remain a bright spot, which in turn has a direct positive impact on the data revenues. Even with the decline in handset sales, smartphone segment will continue to increase in 2009 accounting for almost 30% of the overall device shipments.

There is also a concerted effort underway to move beyond the traditional subscriptions and expand the mobile universe to wireless-enable other consumer devices (What did your refrigerator say to your microwave while you were gone?).

Coming back to the 2009 forecasts, we are raising our estimates for the mobile data service revenues to $45B for the year. We will be keeping a very close eye on the micro- and macro-trends and reporting on the market on a regular basis in various private and public settings.

Against this backdrop, the analysis of the Q209 US wireless data market is:

Service Revenues (Slides 11-12, 17-18)

ARPU (Slides 13-15)

Subscribers (Slides 16-17)

Applications and Services



We will be keeping a close eye on the trends in the wireless data sector in our blog, twitter feeds, future research reports, and articles. The next US Wireless Data Market update will be released in Oct 2009. The next Global Wireless Data Market update will be issued in Sept 2009.

Your feedback is always welcome.

Should you have any questions about navigating or understanding the economic and competitive icebergs, please feel free to drop us a line.


Chetan Sharma

Disclaimer: Some of the companies mentioned in this note are our clients.

In case you missed August 3, 2009

Posted by chetan in : US Wireless Market , add a comment

here are the July stories that we participated in ..

WSJ – Big Phone Companies Are Unlikely US Antitrust Target

GigaOM – Mobile Broadband Will Trigger Global Innovation

BusinessWeek – The Wireless Data Boom Will Cost the Carriers

Gestion – Del compromiso a la compra (in Spanish)

BusinessWeek – AT&T’s Designs for the Wireless Market

Mediapost – IAB Unveils Mobile Media Buying Guide

Xconomy – A Yotta Insights on Making Money in Mobile

Mediapost – AT&T Wants Devices To Expand Use of Wireless Networks

Mobilize – discount available for a great conference August 2, 2009

Posted by chetan in : US Wireless Market , add a comment



GigaOM’s Mobilize conference is one of those events that i can recommend without reservation. I thoroughly enjoyed the event last year, having moderated two sessions.

This year’s event is looking to be a great one as well. I will be moderating the Ultraband panel (more on this later).

I am happy to pass on a 10% discount to AORTA readers.

Avail by clicking here

More info on the conference:

The iPhone and a billion downloaded apps is just the start of a boom. Will Netbooks be next?

Mobilize 09 is a one-day conference that brings together the thought leaders and practitioners of the mobile web and telecom ecosystems for demonstrations and debate. We’ll examine what it means to have wireless broadband speeds at the Gigabit scale and how the explosion of platforms beyond traditional handsets creates new opportunities for entrepreneurs, investors and consumers.

Sanjay Jha the co-CEO of Motorola and Cole Brodman, CTO of T-Mobile are this years Keynotes. With over 50 confirmed speakers to date, you should not miss this opportunity to network with the leaders who are defining the future of wireless broadband.

Plus of course our annual Launchpad competition where 10 of the newest mobile startups are debuted!


Hot Topics to be Covered Include:

* The Netbooks, MIDs and the Ultraportable Boom

* Ultraband: A Fast Platform For Innovation

* Monetizing your Apps

* Monetizing Context and Location

* Innovating New Products And Service Ideas

* “Appstore” Models

* Mobile Analytics Panel

* VC Outlook on Investments

Find your area of interest at http://events.gigaom.com/mobilize/09/

FCC probes Apple’s rejection of Google Voice for iPhone

Posted by chetan in : US Wireless Market , 2 comments

Talked to Mercury News about FCC’s decision to look into the Apple app rejection of GVoice

FCC probes Apple’s rejection of Google Voice for iPhone

By Troy Wolverton and John Boudreau

Mercury News

Posted: 07/31/2009 07:37:55 PM PDT

Signaling heightened scrutiny of the wireless industry, the Federal Communications Commission said Friday it was investigating why Apple rejected the Google Voice application for the iPhone.

The FCC sent letters to AT&T, Apple and Google asking for information about the decision and, more broadly, about how Apple runs its applications store.

The informal inquiry comes as part of a broader look by the agency into competition in the wireless industry. Earlier this year, prompted by Congress, the FCC started investigating the exclusivity agreements that tie particular handsets to specific carriers, such as the one that binds the iPhone to AT&T.

“Recent news reports raise questions about practices in the mobile marketplace. The (FCC’s) inquiry to these companies about this matter reflects (its) proactive approach to getting the facts and data necessary to make the best policy decisions,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement.

The inquiry focuses on voice over Internet (VOIP) applications on wireless phones. It seeks information on how Apple has treated other VOIP programs submitted to its application store and whether AT&T has permitted the use of Google Voice on phones other than the iPhone. The agency also wants to know what role, if any, AT&T played in Apple’s decision to reject Google Voice for the iPhone and remove the other applications.

But the inquiry goes far beyond just that issue, seeking information from Apple and AT&T about what other applications Apple has rejected and why.

A Google representative acknowledged that Apple had rejected its Voice application for the iPhone and said Google would respond to the FCC’s inquiry, but didn’t comment on concerns raised by the agency.

An Apple representative declined to comment on the inquiry.

AT&T points at Apple

AT&T spokesman John Britton said the cell phone service provider is not involved in approving applications for the iPhone. “Apple manages the application store,” he said.

But Britton declined to say whether AT&T sets guidelines for Apple about what programs are or are not acceptable on its network. There are indications that it does.

In May, Apple blocked Sling Media from releasing an application that would have allowed iPhone users to watch television programs transmitted from a Slingbox over AT&T’s network. Instead, the application was limited to transmitting those television signals over Wi-Fi networks.

In explaining the decision, an AT&T representative said at the time that the company’s terms of service — which had been updated immediately before the release of Sling’s application — forbade the use of its network to transmit television signals.

But other phones on AT&T were previously able to use the Sling application, suggesting that the company may be treating the iPhone differently. Similarly, Google Voice is available on phones other than the iPhone, including, according to reports, ones that work on AT&T’s network. But users of those other phones, which include models of the BlackBerry from Research in Motion, are able to download applications from more than one store. In contrast, iPhone users generally can get applications only through Apple’s store.

Chetan Sharma, an independent wireless industry analyst, said the FCC appears to be staking out new ground in regards to mobile phone applications.

“The FCC is looking to take a stance that if an app is available on one platform, there should be no reason it is not available on another platform,” he said. “The FCC wants to make sure consumer interests are not being harmed.”

Phenomenal success

Apple’s application store has been a phenomenal success since it launched last summer. IPhone users have now downloaded a total of 1.5 billion programs from the store and can choose from some 65,000 of them.

But developers have often been frustrated by the way Apple has run the marketplace. The company has at times taken weeks to review applications after they’ve been submitted and typically provides no explanation when it rejects them.

Developers and users both have also been frustrated by what have seemed capricious or self-interested decisions about which applications or features of applications are prohibited. For example, some programs have been allowed to stream video over AT&T’s network, while others haven’t. Meanwhile, Apple has not permitted any applications that might rival its iTunes music store or would allow iPhone users to make VOIP calls while connected to AT&T’s network.

After previously taking a largely hands-off approach, the FCC has started to take a closer look at the wireless industry. The agency is considering whether it should mandate “open access” rules for the industry that would require carriers to allow consumers to use the devices and applications of their choice.