Mobile services - 1st half of 2021

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Executive Summary

Penetration of mobile services with actual use rose to 121 per 100 inhabitants

At the end of the first half of 2021, mobile service penetration in Portugal reached 170.4 per 100 inhabitants. If only mobile accesses with actual use are considered1 (excluding M2M2), the penetration rate in Portugal would be 121. Excluding accesses exclusively associated with data services and Internet access (cards associated with PC/tablet/pen/routers), the penetration of mobile services would be 115.3 per 100 inhabitants.

Penetration of mobile accesses sold together with fixed services (i.e. in convergent packages) was 48.1 per 100 inhabitants3.

The number of users increased by 3.4% in the last 12 months

The number of mobile accesses eligible to use the service totalled 17.6 million. Of these, 12.5 million (71% of the total) saw actual use. Excluding those associated with PC/tablet/pen/router accesses, the number of mobile accesses rose to 11.9 million.

The number of subscribers who actually used the service increased by 414 thousand (+3.4%) compared to the first six months of 2020. This is the highest level of growth reported since this indicator was first compiled (in 2010). This trend is explained by greater uptake of post-paid and hybrid plans (+5.7% over the last 12 months), representing 62.9% of total accesses with actual use, and is associated with the gradual lifting of movement restrictions from the second half of March. Prepaid plans (-0.1% in the last 12 months) continued to show a downward trend, in place since 2012.

High growth in voice traffic per access due to the impact of COVID-19

Mobile voice traffic in minutes increased by 7.0% compared to 1H2020. The trend in voice traffic in minutes was influenced by COVID-19. Had the pandemic not occurred, it is estimated that average mobile voice traffic per access would have increased by 4.6%. It is estimated that the effect of COVID-19 during the 5 quarters of the pandemic was, on average, +11.8% per quarter4.

The average number of conversation minutes per mobile voice access during the first six months of 2021 was 251 minutes per month, 14 minutes more (+5.7%) than during the same period of 2020.

The average duration of calls was 3 minutes and 25 seconds per call, 2 seconds (+1.0%) more than in the same period of 2020.

It should be noted that traffic to international networks decreased by 12.6%, possibly influenced by the effects of the pandemic.

Number of mobile Internet users increased 2.0%

The number of actual users of the mobile Internet access service stood at 8 million, an increase of 2.0% compared to the same period of 2020. This value corresponds to a penetration rate of around 78.0 users per 100 inhabitants (+1.5 percentage points versus 1H2020).

The number of mobile broadband users increased by 11.9%

The increase in the number of users results from increases both in the number of Internet users using mobile phones (+1.3%) and in the number of users of the Internet access service via PC/tablet/pen/router (+11.9 %). In the latter case, this represents the highest year-on-year growth recorded since 2010, during the e-initiatives programme. The current growth may be associated with the Programa Escola Digital (Digital School Programme), launched in September 2020, which involved the distribution of an Internet hotspot and a SIM card to students for connection to the mobile network, and may also be related to an increase in mobility associated with the gradual lifting of movement restrictions and the start of the holiday period for many users.

Mobile Internet traffic increased by 24.6%, while average monthly traffic reached 5.5 GB/month, but Portugal still lags other countries

Mobile broadband Internet access traffic (MBB) increased by 24.6% compared to 1H2020. This growth is explained by the increase in the number of users and, to a greater extent, by an intensification of use.

Average monthly traffic per active mobile Internet user increased by 23.7% compared to the same period of 2020. Each mobile broadband user consumed, on average, 5.5 GB per month. Average monthly traffic generated per PC/tablet/pen/router access was 25.8 GB (+27.6%). The possible impact of COVID-19 contributed to the reported trend, especially in the case of offers supported by PC/tablet/pen/router accesses.

Despite the half-year increase reported above, according to the results of a study by Opensignal, Portugal has the lowest average monthly consumption of mobile data among 65 countries considered. The different levels of mobile data consumption result from the different levels of: (1) 5G and fixed broadband penetration; (2) use of Wi-Fi networks (where Portugal stands out); (3) prices and features of the offers available in each country.

M2M accesses increased by 5.8%

At the end of 1H2021, there were around 1.3 million active mobile accesses associated with Machine-to-Machine (M2M) use, an increase of 5.8% compared to the same period of the previous year.

International roaming traffic increases again

Some types of roaming traffic registered increases compared to the same period of the previous year. In particular, Internet traffic, which had been growing at rates above 50% over the last 5 years, and which in the 2nd quarter of 2020 saw significant drops with the start of the pandemic, returned to high rates of growth this quarter (+30.9% for roaming in and +37.3% for roaming out).

Roaming in Internet access traffic was twice as high as roaming out traffic

During this six-month period, coverage of roaming in by roaming out in terms of minutes was reported at 67.4%. Over the last five years, the roaming balance (roaming in – roaming out) only reported a surplus in 2017. In the case of Internet access, roaming in traffic was substantially higher than roaming out traffic. In the first half of 2021, the volume of roaming in traffic was twice that of roaming out traffic.

Provider shares

MEO was the provider with the highest share of active mobile accesses with actual use (40.4%), followed by Vodafone (29.8%), NOS (26.7%) and NOWO (1.8%). Compared to the same period of 2020, NOS, NOWO and Lycamobile increased their shares of mobile accesses increased by 0.5 percentage points, 0.2 percentage points and 0.1 percentage points, respectively, while MEO and Vodafone reported declines of 0.5 percentage points and 0.3 percentage points, respectively.

The level of concentration, as measured by the Herfindahl-Hirschman index, although high, decreased slightly compared to the same period of 2020, following the trend seen since 2012.

NOS has the highest share of mobile broadband Internet traffic (45.4%), followed by MEO and Vodafone (27.4% and 26.7%, respectively). Compared to the same period of 2020, NOS saw its share shrink by 0.7 percentage points while MEO and Vodafone saw increases of 0.3 percentage points and 0.4 percentage points, respectively.

1 Active mobile accesses, such as subscription plans, minute plans, monthly payment plans convertible into traffic, which are eligible to use one of the contracted services and that actually made use of one of the contracted services in the period being reported.
2 M2M applications use mobile networks and the Internet to operate, monitor and interconnect machines and devices (i.e., telealarm, telesecurity, telemetry, etc.). Associated with the Internet of things.
3 This is a portion of the 170.4 per 100 inhabitants referred to in the previous paragraph.
4 The effect of COVID-19 cannot be calculated based on the difference between the variation that actually occurred and the estimate of the variation that would have occurred if it were not for the pandemic. In fact, these values are calculated as variations in relation to the previous year, while estimates of the effect of COVID-19 are based on a comparison with the variation that would have occurred during the period of the pandemic if the pandemic had not taken place.