North American wireless industry survey

April 2013
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North American wireless industry survey

At a glance

PwC's 2012 North American wireless industry survey provides an understanding of current and emerging trends in the wireless sector. It will help your business benchmark against other North American operators and shape changes in your general financial accounting and reporting policies.

PwC's Communications sector report, Real time: The growing demand for data- 2012 North American wireless industry survey, analyzes wireless telecommunications industry responses about financial accounting and operations practices. The survey aims to inform wireless, telecom, and broadband industry participants of the current and emerging trends to empower them in decision making in this fast-changing environment. The results of this survey reflect the participation of nine US and four Canadian wireless operators.

The survey includes more than 200 data charts covering items from smartphone and data usage to customer retention programs and from customer care to the useful lives of property, plant, and equipment assets. We dive into this level of detail to provide readers with relevant data for understanding trends in key performance measures and the financial accounting and reporting policies and practices of wireless telecommunications service providers. The survey period covers calendar year 2011 as well as certain information as of June 30, 2012. Companies participate voluntarily, and individual survey results are kept confidential by PwC.

Click on the headings below to explore highlights of the survey.

Market expansion slows, innovation grows

While wireless subscriber growth remains strong, the pace of expansion has begun to slow with the market reaching saturation. The survey finds that the US has now reached a level where most, if not all, of the addressable market has a mobile device and service. As a result, many are turning to new growth areas such as multi-device data plans, machine-to-machine (M2M) subscriptions and greater customization of service plans for new revenue sources.

Demanding more mobility

The average tablet connections grew nearly 43 percent year-over-year due to higher demand for mobility from businesses and consumers, better network connectivity and higher data demand. Smartphone sales to postpaid customers represented 60 percent of new device sales, up 46 percent from the 2011 survey, and accounted for 70 percent of postpaid upgrades, up 40 percent from the 2011 survey.


Average monthly minutes of use per postpaid subscriber as of June 30

An industry losing its voice

The report finds the continuing trend of declining mobile voice usage as subscribers consume more data services. The average minutes of use (MOU) per postpaid subscriber decreased from 720 MOU per month in the previous survey to 673 MOU per month in the 2012 survey.


Smartphone sales as a percentage of new phone sales

Network upgrades

While the limited availability of spectrum hampers network upgrades, wireless operators continue to transition to 4G technology to support the increasing demand for mobile broadband and newer services such as video chat and mobile TV. The 2012 survey indicates that on average, 65 percent of carriers’ cell sites used 4G technology, compared with 46 percent in the 2011 survey, but it comes at a cost.


Average cost per cell site for 3G technology

Average cost per cell site for 4G technology

Clearing the way: network decommissioning

Driven by the complexity and cost of maintaining multiple technologies, more carriers are preparing to decommission their older networks as more subscribers continue to upgrade more quickly to new devices. The 2012 survey reveals that eight of the 12 responding carriers have plans for, or are currently in the process of decommissioning network assets.


Decommissioning expense recognition

Note: PwC's outlook for telecom network decommissioning based on a global study of telecom executives can be downloaded here.