Mobile traffic growth rates have been declining inexorably for more than a decade. By now, most people are watching as much TV as they want. Back in 2012, I wrote:
Confirmed: Wireless Data Growth Rapidly Slowing. The growth rate drop will continue as the once in a generation surge due to the introduction of smartphones is winding down. The growth rate drop will continue as the once in a generation surge due to the introduction of smartphones is winding down.
40% growth rates are long gone. Across 38 OECD countries, mobile data rose by 15%, far lower than ever before. (OECD represents almost all affluent nations. China is not included.) Some of the decline is probably pandemic related.
Video watching hours are flat across the web. People are watching as much as they want to. Video is perhaps 70% of what goes over the web. If it is not growing, traffic rates cannot stay high,
Ericsson predicts US and Western Europe will see only 20% growth in 2025. This is only a single year, worrisome but not enough to declare a trend.
The data is clear. Just before the pandemic, many carriers reported growth fell below 30%. Many in wireless have been in denial, with CEOs of major multinational companies talking about growth rates of 40%. The world changed during the pandemic, with many people at home switching to Wi-Fi.
With capacity still growing over 40%/year, carriers have much more than they can sell.
The latest update of the OECD broadband portal shows that fibre subscriptions increased by 18.6% over the year to December 2021 to move ahead of cable, now at 32.4% of fixed broadband subscriptions, and DSL at 27% and declining. This is good news for the delivery of data-intense services and applications, given the symmetrical capacity that fibre offers. The biggest growth was in Costa Rica, Israel, Greece and Belgium which all increased fibre connections by more than 80% in 2021. The share of fibre in total broadband is now at 50% or above in 13 OECD countries, standing above 50% in Chile, Finland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, and Portugal, and above 70% in Iceland, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Spain and Sweden.
Fixed broadband subscriptions continue to grow in almost all OECD countries, increasing by 3.9% across the OECD area in 2021 to total 472 million, up from 454 million in December 2020, to average 34.4 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants in the OECD. Switzerland led the pack with a penetration rate of 48.4 subscriptions per 100 people, followed by France (46%), Norway (45%), and Denmark (45%).
Mobile data usage per subscription rose by 15% in 2021, less than in 2020, but still making a rise of 79% over the three years to end-2021. The amount of data consumed averages 8.4 GB per OECD subscription per month but varies greatly by country. Finland leads the way with 36.7 GB per month per subscription, followed by Latvia (29.7 GB) and Austria (26.4 GB) while monthly averages in Mexico and the Slovak Republic are just below 4 GB.
Despite the very high penetration of mobile broadband subscriptions, 2021 still saw significant growth of 5.5%. Mobile broadband penetration is highest in Japan, Estonia, the United States and Finland, with subscriptions per 100 inhabitants at 191%, 180%, 169% and 157%, respectively.
Iceland is by far the leader in machine-to-machine (M2M) communications with 317 M2M SIM cards per 100 inhabitants. The high number is driven by Vodafone Iceland’s provision of M2M subscriptions to help international pharmaceutical companies distribute COVID-19 vaccines. Sweden, Austria, Norway, and Germany also rank highly in terms of M2M SIM cards per head. Sweden’s 191 M2M SIM cards per 100 inhabitants is boosted by the use of these SIM cards in other countries by a Swedish operator. Overall, M2M/integrated mobile cellular subscriptions have increased by more than 16% (58 million new subscriptions) over the past year in the countries for which data were available.