Forecast: Pandemic hits mobile comms industry for $50bn

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Mobile services represent critical infrastructure that’s allowing people to stay connected during the coronavirus crisis. However, that doesn’t mean these services are immune to the pandemic’s economic shock, with 2020 market revenue now expected to come in about $51 billion (€46.6bn) short of the previous forecast, according to Omdia.

Worldwide mobile communications services market revenue will total $749.7 billion this year, down from the prior forecast of $800.3 billion. This compares to $781.5 billion in 2019. Annual revenue will fall by 4.1 per cent this year, with the decline amounting to $31.8 billion.

“Mobile phone companies around the world are experiencing usage spikes as more countries encourage or enforce social distancing and work-from-home rules to slow the spread of the Covid-19,” said Mike Roberts, research director at Omdia. “However, the spikes aren’t enough to overcome the impact of the pandemic on consumer behavior. These rules are having a dramatic impact on various regions of the world, halting new subscriptions and upgrades in the United States, while slashing revenue for operators in Europe.”

Consumer uptake of 5G will be slower than previously forecasted, due to the economic situation as well as the possibility of delays in 5G network deployment and in the availability of 5G devices. Omdia will release more details on 5G shortly.

In the Americas, mobile service revenue is set to decline by 3.7 per cent to $237 billion in 2020. Most of that loss will come in the US as both net additions and upgrades to higher data plans slow or stop altogether.

Europe will suffer the largest impact of the crisis, with mobile service revenue falling 9.1 per cent to $131 billion, representing a downgrade of 9.3 per cent compared to Omdia’s previous forecast. This decline will be driven by significant reductions in mobile prepaid revenue and a dramatic drop in inbound roaming revenue.

Vodafone UK, for example, said mobile Internet traffic has increased by 30 per cent and mobile voice traffic by 42 per cent due to the crisis. At the same time, mobile service providers are seeing new business grind to a halt as retail stores close and consumers stop buying new phones as job losses mount. One example of this widespread trend is AT&T, which is closing 40 per cent of its retail stores in the US.

The Middle East and Africa will see a 3.9 per cent decline in mobile service revenues to $84 billion, representing a downgrade of  8.4 per cent from Omdia’s previous forecast. Major factors for the decline include the impact of low oil prices on Gulf economies and the fragility of economies and health care systems in parts of Africa.

While the impact of the coronavirus on the mobile market is significant in every region, it pales in comparison to the impact the crisis is having on sectors such as travel, tourism, hospitality and retail, which have suffered partial or complete shutdowns. The International Monetary Fund now expects the global economy to contract by 3 per cent in 2020, according to its latest World Economic Outlook, which was released earlier this month.

“The massive contraction will clearly impact every segment of the economy, including mobile, but how long it will last in each country and region is virtually impossible to predict,” Roberts said. “One bright spot is that in China, the first country hit by the pandemic, there are signs that the mobile market and broader economy is starting to come back to life.”


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