Use of mobile and internet services grows in Europe—but not much competition in mobile

On April 11 ETNO, which represents European telcos, published the results of a European consumer survey commissioned from IPSOS.

The survey’s findings include:

  • 65% of Europe’s consumers see services provided via telecommunications as ‘crucial’ to their daily lives.

  • Over one third of Europeans stream music or videos and over one fifth of these expect to increase their use of streaming in future.

  • 45% say they expect to increasingly use online services to make calls outside their own country.

  • The “main drivers” of consumers’ decision to choose a mobile provider are “quality” rather than “price”. We are told that 82% of consumers regard mobile network coverage as the most important factor

The survey tells an important story about consumers’ expectations that they will increasingly rely on Europe’s fixed and mobile communications infrastructure to shop and amuse themselves online. Another important, if unsurprising, finding is that broadband coverage in Europe is good and appears, in the eyes of consumers, to offer reasonable value for money.

Two findings are striking, however, for what they say about Europe’s market for voice telephony. First, international calling via the web is high, irrespective of age, and consumers say that they expect to increase their use of online calling. Second, when choosing a mobile provider 82% of citizens believe that network coverage is more important than price. ETNO presents this latter as part of an overall story of satisfied consumers. This is surely a questionable conclusion.

Using mobile phones in Europe represents a high marginal cost for young Europeans—22% of whom are unemployed. Families that subsidise or pay for their children’s smart phone contracts are also paying a high proportion of income on these services. It seems unlikely that ‘network coverage’ is all that important when choosing a carrier. One reason why the ‘network coverage’ may be identified as the most important factor in determining a mobile carrier may be because for Europeans price competition in mobile telephony is poor. Europe neither has a single market for mobile carriers nor the will to create one. Rather the EU has many national oligopolies with a few local carriers who do not compete on price. It is not likely that the abolition of roaming costs by the European Commission in June of this year will make any difference as mobile carriers will still have the right to impose roaming tariffs if the use of a phone abroad is for longer than a brief period. One sign of a lack of competition in price was the fact that Ireland’s mobile network Three announced that it would increase its monthly standard contract for all its customers, whether they use their phone abroad or not, by €5 in order to recover revenue lost due to the abolition of roaming charges. Other national carriers were reported to be considering a similar move. Price competition it isn’t.