Growth in overall wireless network traffic slows by 60%, PwC survey finds

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According to a new survey of all of the major North American wireless carriers, smartphones remain incredibly popular among subscribers, who are consuming an average of 694 MB per month in postpaid data. At the same time, voice calling continues to decline from around 720 minutes per month among postpaid users in 2010 to 673 minutes last year. But perhaps the most interesting finding from the PwC survey is that wireless carriers are seeing a dramatic 60 percent slowdown in the growth of traffic on their wireless networks.

"While it is too early to tell if this slowdown is an indication of a maturing industry and a reduction in subscriber demands, it offers some potential relief to rapidly escalating network capital requirements and deployment challenges," PwC wrote in its new "Real time. The growing demand for data," report. The firm found that overall network traffic growth slowed from a 138 percent increase between June 30, 2011, and June 30, 2010, to just a 76 percent increase between June 30, 2011, and June 30, 2012.


Source: PwC

The new PwC survey, which is conducted every year, collected information through Dec. 31, 2011, as well as "certain" information available as of June 30, 2012. It includes responses from virtually every major North American wireless carrier including Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) and T-Mobile USA.

"The maturing mobile industry is at an inflection point with price and value conscious subscribers consuming more data services requiring continuous and significant network investments from operators," said Pierre-Alain Sur, PwC's global communications industry leader, in summarizing the findings from the report. "Carriers need to find the right balance of finding innovative ways to retain and attract subscribers, creating shareholder value, while investing significantly in their networks. As a result, many are turning to new growth areas such as multidevice data plans, machine-to-machine (M2M) subscriptions and greater customization of service plans for new revenue sources."

As for the growth in smartphones, PwC's report shows that smartphones comprised 60 percent of sales to postpaid customers in fiscal 2011, up from 41 percent in the previous year. And the number of total postpaid subscribers using a smartphone increased to 56 percent as of June 30, 2012, compared with 39 percent as of June 30, 2011.


Source: PwC

Aside from smartphones, tablets also continue to generate sales for carriers. PwC found the average number of tablet connections among each of the nine carriers in the firm's survey rose to 1 million as of June 30, 2012, up from 700,000 as of June 30, 2011.

The firm also said those subscribers are consuming increasing amounts of data. PwC's report showed the average postpaid customer using 694 MB per month as of June 30, 2012, up from 548 MB as of June 30, 2011. Not surprisingly, mobile broadband customers (those with cellular-capable laptops or USB modems) chewed through far more data than smartphone users, consuming an average of 4,961 MBs per month as of June 30, 2012, from 3,698 MBs per month as of June 30, 2011. Data usage among prepaid customers (including those with smartphones, mobile broadband devices, tablets and other gadgets) also rose from 275 MBs per month as of June 30, 2011, to 454 MBs as of June 30, 2012.


Source: PwC

Finally, PwC pointed to the importance of M2M as a growth driver for wireless carriers. The firm found that seven of the thirteen carriers surveyed offered M2M services as of June 30, 2012, and those carriers reported connections that averaged 5.8 million as of June 30, 2012.

For more:
- see the release
- see this report (PDF)

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