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Mobile operators are finally halting their long-term decline in average revenue per user, thanks mainly to non-voice services, a new report claims.

Telecom consultancy and research company Analysys said on Wednesday in a new report, "Western European Mobile Forecasts and Analysis 2003-2008," that the major mobile operators in France, Germany, Spain and the UK all experienced growth in average revenue per user last year, as well as in their subscriber base. Falls were recorded in Sweden and figures were flat in Italy.

Average revenue per user, or ARPU, is considered a crucial figure to mobile industry watchers and analysts, as it gives a clear indication of revenue levels for mobile operators going forward. With the market now saturated and voice services thought to have little room for growth, it's generally agreed that data services are the best way to drive ARPU.

Analysys said that in 2002 ARPU in Western Europe averaged €31 per user per month, and that by the end of this year the number of mobile phone subscribers in the region will grow 5 per cent to 309 million. This means that if ARPU growth is flat this year, mobile operators in Western Euroope will be collecting almost €9.6 billion from customers every month until the end of 2003.

However, Analysys says that ARPU growth will not stagnate. In fact, the company says that in 2002, Western European operators drew just 12 per cent of their revenue from non-voice services, but by 2005 this figure will be closer to 24 per cent. By 2008, non-voice services should reach the 36 per cent of revenue mark, and growth in this segment will lead to higher ARPU numbers.

"The main reason operators have been able to improve ARPU is because they are achieving big gains in revenue from non-voice services, which include person-to-person messaging and mobile entertainment services," said Katrina Bond, lead author of the Analysys report.

"Person-to-person messaging has been responsible for most of the growth to date, and these services will continue to be important, but mobile entertainment services such as downloadable games will become increasingly significant revenue earners," Bond added.

Other details in the Analysys report included a forecast which said that person-to-person messaging will grow from €13bn in 2003 to €20bn in 2008 as this service extends from SMS to include large volumes of multimedia messages (MMS) and e-mail. Moreover, mobile entertainment services revenue will grow from less than €3bn in 2003 to nearly €11bn in 2008. © ENN

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