URCA: Mobile data subscribers grow 43 percent

While mobile voice subscribers saw a five percent decline across the electronic communications sector (ECS) in 2020, mobile data subscribers grew a strong 43 percent, according to the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority’s (URCA) just-published 2020 Annual Report and 2021 Annual Plan.

That growth in mobile data did not help the sector’s revenue base, which declined 14 percent last year, according to URCA, to land at $355 million year over year.

This decline in revenue may be caused in part by the drop in prepaid mobile subscribers, which fell 7.5 percent as postpaid subscribers grew 8 percent.

Overall, subscribers dropped from approximately 426,000 in 2019 to 404,000 last year.

“Mobile voice subscribers showed an uptick in the past four years with the exception of 2017. However, this trend did not occur in 2020, likely as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic. To this end, data collected from mobile operators revealed a five percent decline, landing the number of subscribers at 403,759 in 2020,” URCA states in its market review of the ECS.

“Simultaneously, mobile voice penetration for 2020 compared to 2019 fell by six percent. While mobile voice subscribers showed an overall decline, there was a year-over-year (YoY) increase in the amount of postpaid subscribers by eight percent, which suggests that the fall in total subscribers was contributed by a decline in prepaid subscribers at 7.5 percent.”

As for the strong growth in mobile data subscriptions, which grew from just under 20,000 in 2019 to nearly 30,000 last year, URCA attributed it to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated safety protocols, which required more residents to work or go to school from home.

“Mobile data-only services is another growing market and relates to the total number of active subscribers to mobile internet service via a laptop, tablet with 3G/4G connectivity or a USB dongle. Mobile data-only subscribers is a useful indicator to monitor, as the service can be a potential substitute for fixed broadband internet,” URCA said.

“In 2020, mobile data showed a strong 43 percent increase in total subscribers. It is not clear if this trend is expected to continue, but gains in this indicator could be pinned to a number of reasons, such as an increased use of mobile data to share information and remain informed on the latest COVID-19 updates and protocols.”

While there was some growth in the mobile voice segment, fixed voice showed a continuing four-year downward trend after subscriptions declined from 97,000 in 2019 to 88,400 in 2020.

“For this service, operators recorded a near nine percent decline in subscribers when compared to the past year,” URCA states.

“This decline is consistent with data for the past four years, which shows a continuous downward trend. This trend is reflective of global trends as consumers move to more modern voice communication technologies. Therefore, the adverse economic impact of COVID-19 should not be pinned as a leading factor for the YoY reduction.”

Be Aliv Limited (Aliv) and Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) are the two major operators in the ECS that offer mobile voice and data services.

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Paige McCartney

Paige joined The Nassau Guardian in 2010 as a television news reporter and anchor. She has covered countless political and social events that have impacted the lives of Bahamians and changed the trajectory of The Bahamas. Paige started working as a business reporter in August 2016. Education: Palm Beach Atlantic University in 2006 with a BA in Radio and Television News

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