North American wireless industry survey

February 2015
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North American wireless industry survey

At a glance

PwC's 2013 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, Streaming live. Operating in the age of innovation - 2013 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 five 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 2013. 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 subscriber growth has continued to be strong across the wireless industry, the pace of expansion continues to slow, due in large part to market saturation. Increasingly, respondents are turning to new growth areas such as multi-device data connection plans, tablets, and machine-to-machine (M2M) subscriptions for additional growth in the number of connections. In recognition of this trend, some respondents have begun to measure and report connections and accounts, rather than simply tracking individual subscribers. For the survey respondents, average total connections grew 7.3 percent year over year.

Demanding more mobility

Smartphone users on average consumed 776 MBs of data per month as of December 31, 2013, compared with 478 MBs of data per month at the same time in 2012. Among the mobile operating systems utilized, Android, Apple iOS, and Windows are the largest drivers of MB usage on a monthly basis with all but Windows averaging roughly 1,000 MBs per month on average for fiscal year 2013.

Average MB per subscriber
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An industry shift towards prepaid

The survey results indicate that the average postpaid connections grew by just 1.2 percent year over year in 2013. On the other hand, the average prepaid connections grew 30.2 percent year over year. The increase in prepaid subscribers using smartphones is growing at a faster rate with an almost 50 percent increase on a year over year basis; driven largely by availability of devices to this customer segment. An average of 35 percent of the prepaid subscriber base utilized a smartphone as of December 31, 2013, compared with 17 percent as of December 31, 2012. Smartphones are also increasingly becoming a more significant part of prepaid phones sales with smartphones averaging 38 percent of prepaid phones sales for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2013, as compared with 27 percent for the year ended December 31, 2012.

Prepaid data usage continues to increase for all responding carriers and grew by 76 percent on a year over year basis from 548 MBs as of December 31, 2012, to 966 MBs as of December 31, 2013 for prepaid subscribers (including smartphones, mobile broadband, tablets, etc.).

Operation systems used for smartphones
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Network upgrades

Carriers indicated that they continue to experience significant increases in network traffic. The average increase in network traffic from December 31, 2012 to December 31, 2013 was 59 percent which is slightly down from the 63 percent average increase between December 31, 2011 and December 31, 2012. While these increases are lower than the rapid rates of the early years of smartphones and the introduction of data services, carriers continue to feel the demand for continued capital requirements and deployment of new technology challenges. The increased data traffic continues to impact the overall capital expenditures as a percentage of revenue, which approximated 16 percent of service revenue as of December 31, 2013.

Average cost per cell site
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