The number of Mexican mobile lines in use rose to 112.4 million at the end of the first quarter of 2017, up from 109.0 million in the previous year, according to a report by Mexico City-based analytic firm The Competitive Intelligence Unit. The growing availability of affordable plans and of flat-rate mobile broadband offers with zero-rated social media access have contributed to the 69 percent year-over-year growth in mobile data consumption, to an average of 528 MB per user at the end of the first quarter. However, mobile ARPU continued to decline, dipping 4.3 percent year-over-year to just under US $7.00 per month, according to the same report.
There is a clear lesson in this dramatic figure, and it is not a very reassuring one despite the impressive growth in data use.
Certainly, it is true that in Mexico, uptake in use of data services is very rapid, and the quantities of data per user are getting quite large. That is also true of many markets, and not only those that are still developing and have not reached saturation. A report just released by Ericsson anticipates that mobile broadband subscribers worldwide will double by 2022, and that mobile broadband subscriptions should increase at a rate of 1 million per day, from 4.39 billion at the end of 2016 to 8.28 billion in 2022. Ericsson also found that 4G/LTE will overtake GSM in 2018, having grown faster than any mobile technology ever.
Nonetheless, we should take note of the fact that in a period in which mobile data consumption rose by 69 percent, ARPU from such services declined. That is due in part to the necessity of zero-rating data and offering flat-rate plans in order to promote data use, but it is also an expression of the industry-wide trend toward declining ARPU from mobile services and the movement of these services toward commodity status.
The results from the Mexican market, then, are a timely reminder of the need for operators to find new revenue streams via new uses for the data that is being consumed so avidly. The demand for data-driven services and products is there; the question is how to make it pay. As we have written on previous occasions, creative branding and engaging in partnerships for technological innovation are very important components of this ongoing effort.