Belgian operator Telenet said that data traffic on its mobile network was down 24 percent on New Year’s Eve, while rivals Proximus and Orange Belgium showed the opposite, with mobile data up at least 20 percent year-on-year.
The Telenet/Base network handled 100,277 GB of mobile data. SMS traffic dropped an even faster 47 percent, to 4.3 million messages between 20.00 and 08.00 hours on the holiday.
Proximus and Orange Belgium also reported a significant fall in SMS traffic. Proximus handled 7.4 million SMS on New Year’s Eve, down 37 percent from a year ago, and Orange handled 5.4 million texts, down 42 percent. However, in contrast to Telenet, both Proximus and Orange saw an increase in mobile data traffic on New Year’s Eve. Proximus reported an increase of 20 percent to 180.4 TB, and Orange reported an increase of 24 percent to 210.8 TB.
These figures reported by the three major mobile operators in Belgium contain an interesting disparity—two of them experienced significant increases in New Year’s Eve data traffic versus last year, while the other showed an approximately equal decrease. Aside from that, the results across the board confirm the rapid decrease in customers’ reliance on SMS compared to OTT messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Messenger, a shift that is especially visible on festive occasions such as New Year’s Eve.
The drops in New Year’s SMS usage were very sharp year-over-year—37 percent, 42 percent, and 47 percent—indicating that the dominance of the big OTT players is growing fast. According to Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, 1.4 billion voice and video calls were made on New Year’s Eve 2020 across the world via WhatsApp. That number, the most ever on a single day, represents a more than 50 percent increase over 2019. The Covid-19 pandemic is, of course, responsible for people sending more electronic messages in general on New Year’s Eve rather than delivering good wishes to each other face to face, in person.
Despite the drop in SMS, two out of three Belgian MNOs still benefited from internet-based calls and text messages, via the mobile data traffic that they generated. As for Telenet, the 24 percent drop in data traffic on New Year’s Eve is somewhat puzzling. The operator ascribed the drop not only to the increased use of apps but also to more people using Wi-Fi at home to send messages. It does seem likely that due to the pandemic, many or even most people in Belgium stayed home, that many of those would use home-based Wi-Fi (based on fixed internet signals) to transmit their mobile messages, and that this would reduce cellular data traffic. Could it be that a larger proportion of Telenet/Base subscribers have Wi-Fi at home than Proximus and Orange subscribers? The difference would have to be very large to account for the traffic disparity.