chetan sharma
mobile data

Tipping Point: U.S. Mobile Data Revenues Outweighed Those Of Voice In 2013, On Track For $100B/Year

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China may be the biggest of all when it comes to the sheer volume of users in its mobile market — 700 smartphone and tablet users, and counting — but when it comes to revenues from the new wave of data services beyond legacy voice calls, it’s the U.S. that continues to lead. New research out today from Chetan Sharma notes that collectively, mobile data revenues in the U.S. market were $90 billion for 2013, and that this year it will become the first country to pass $100 billion annually.

Overall, carriers and others made more from mobile data service revenues than voice for the first time this year. The U.S. is not the first country to do this, however: it’s actually seventh, Sharma says — Japan was first, in 2011. Nevertheless, growth in mobile data revenues is still not outstripping the decline of voice revenues: overall, ARPU declined by $0.39, with voice ARPU down by $1.51 while the average data ARPU up by $1.13. Each is hovering now around the $27/user mark.

In 2013, smartphone penetration reached 66% and 92% of all mobile handsets sold are smartphones. But when looking at all connected devices sold, tablets accounted for 49% of the volume.

Sharma also said that Apple “bounced back” against Android and took a 49% share of smartphones sold in Q4. But this is a relatively small bounce we’re talking about: over the whole year, the two dominant players were nearly level at about 48% each of all smartphone sales, with “crumbs” for the remainder of the field.

Not a pretty picture for the fate of BlackBerry, or Windows Phone/Nokia making any more headway than they have in years past — or any other would-be new entrant for that matter. “While it is fairly clear that Windows will acquire the #3 spot behind iOS and Android, the journey to a substantial and competitive market share is still ways off,” Sharma writes. It’s also not quite in line with figures from other analysts, so triangulate as you will.

Sharma bases a lot of his research around revenues reported by carriers, although he also incorporates data from tech companies that are making huge bets on mobile in the form of apps and resulting advertising and payments revenues. The number companies making more than $100 million per quarter on mobile continues to grow, evidenced by the likes of Facebook (53% of its revenues last quarter) and Twitter (75% of its advertising revenues), but also the thousands of app developers out there. Remember, Flappy Bird was pulling in more than $50,000 per day at its peak.

Some more interesting data points from Sharma’s report:

  • Sharma notes that the U.S. now accounts for 22% of the world’s mobile data revenues, with China and Japan are following behind. Working out the math, that gives us a worldwide mobile data revenue figure of $409 billion.
  • He also notes the impact that T-Mobile has had on the U.S. industry with its “Un-carrier” marketing push with new pricing plans that give much more flexibility to users and untie them from longer contracts and with different terms for devices. “More of that will happen in 2014 as consumers start to do the math of decoupling the device cost with the services expense,” he predicts.
    • Still, it was Verizon and AT&T that led the pack in the last quarter, where they accounted for 68% of all mobile data services revenue and took 67% of the total subscription base. These figures contributed to the pair respectively holding on to number two and three positions for mobile data revenue globally.
    • Sharma notes that 24% of the patents granted by the USPTO in 2013 were mobile related, with the usual suspects — Samsung, IBM, Microsoft, Sony, and Ericsson — accounting for the top 5.image001

      Image: Flickr