South Africa’s biggest mobile operators, Vodacom and MTN, have expressed concern over the effect over-the-top (OTT) players such as WhatsApp and Facebook will have on their revenues.
Over the past decade, mobile networks have had to contend with declining voice and SMS revenues which have only been partially offset by an increase in data revenue.
Simply put – with the advent of technologies such as WhatsApp and Facebook – which provide cheaper, “free” alternatives to the “premium” pricing of texting and calling, mobile networks are making less money from customers.
This can clearly be seen in ARPU numbers – which have been steadily declining over the years.
Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) is one of the key performance indicators reported by mobile networks to show the health of their business operations in the country.
Looking at the reported ARPU figures from as early as 2002, BusinessTech has compiled the following graph showing the change in ARPU over the past decade.
SA ARPU numbers
Source: Financial Reports | Cell C: Media reports and analyst estimates
Vodacom remains the ARPU king in South Africa, with blended ARPU of R116 as at December 2015. The group is the largest operator in South Africa with 34.1 million subscribers.
Despite its strong position, the group has seen a steady decline in ARPU since 2011, when it was sitting at R157. This, too, is down significantly from the highs of R183 per subscriber in 2003.
MTN is South Africa’s second biggest operator with 29.1 million subscribers, drawing in a blended ARPU of R96. This is up from R92 in 2014 – but down significantly from R154 seen in 2010.
Like Vodacom, MTN enjoyed high ARPU in the early 2000s, kicking off the new millennium with an average revenue per user of R208.
Cell C is not a listed company and is therefore not obligated to divulge its finances. The last indication of its ARPU was in November 2012, when investment analysts at First Avenue Investment Management pegged it at approximately R93.
In the years since, Cell C has talked up its growing subscriber base (which is now over 22 million) and growing revenue. The group revealed its full year 2014 revenue was up 16% year on year, having grown revenue by 14% year on year in its 2013 full year.
Cell C has been at the forefront of OTT advocacy, promoting the use of WhatsApp and the like, embracing the OTT generation. However, with no reported financial figures, it’s difficult to gauge how this strategy is impacting its bottom line.
Telkom started reporting its mobile revenues from 2012, and has seen consistent increases in ARPU every year since. Late 2015, the group reported having just short of 2.3 million mobile subscribers.
In November 2015, the group reported blended ARPU of R89, bringing it in sight of bigger competitors such as Vodacom and MTN.