Verizon, AT&T dominate in global data revenues

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The U.S. mobile data market increased to $18.7 billion in the first quarter of 2012, growing 6 percent quarter over quarter and 21 percent year over year despite the increasing popularity of over-the-top communication services, according to new data from Chetan Sharma Consulting.

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) continue to dominate the U.S. mobile market, combining for 66 percent of the nationwide subscriber base and 68 percent of mobile data services revenues. Verizon Wireless leads all operators worldwide in data revenues, with AT&T surging past Japan's NTT DoCoMo to claim the number two spot.

Overall ARPU increased by $0.54 during the first quarter, with average voice ARPU declining by $0.41 while average data ARPU increased by $0.96, or 5 percent quarter or quarter. Chetan Sharma notes that the average industry percentage contribution of data to overall ARPU exceeded the 40 percent mark in the first quarter 2012 and is likely to exceed the 50 percent threshold sometime next year.

Data now constitutes more than 85 percent of U.S. mobile traffic. Chetan Sharma reports that mobile data traffic growth doubled for the eighth consecutive year in 2011, and is expected to double again in 2012. "As new devices and new network technology rollouts continued in 2012, the data traffic will grow at the expected pace," Sharma said. "The signaling traffic is growing at even a faster pace, three times in some cases."

Messaging volume in the U.S. market grew by 6 percent year over year and 1 percent quarter-over-quarter. Subscribers are now sending an average of 687 messages per month. However, most operators are experience declines in messaging revenue growth due to surging adoption of IP-based messaging services.

"We are at a critical juncture of the industry evolution," Sharma states. "The OTT phenomenon is shifting the tectonic plates at a rapid pace. What seemed like a minor irritant only a few quarters back is become a nuisance virus that is eating away the core. Some operators have gone into panic mode while others have stepped back, assessed the situation, embraced it, and will try to exploit the opportunity... However, while the world waits for interop and wide availability, startups can offer similar and, in most cases, better services now. They can iterate rapidly and reach scale at much faster pace. We are in software-defined world after all."

Despite the increasing prevalence of over-the-top messaging services, 91 percent of U.S. smartphone owners still actively use SMS, according to a recent survey conducted by Vanson Bourne on behalf of mobile messaging firm Acision. Sixty-five percent of all smartphone owners surveyed said they need SMS on their devices, with 45 percent stating they would be lost without the service despite easy access to OTT/IM rivals.

Acision reports that Facebook is the most popular OTT/IM app actively used by U.S. smartphone owners at 37 percent, followed by Skype (17 percent), Twitter (also 17 percent), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iMessage (11 percent) and BlackBerry Messenger (10 percent).

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