Seven signs that competition in Nordic telco is cooling down

The Q3 results just reported by Telia Company, Telenor, Tele2, 3 Scandinavia and Elisa show that it’s quite difficult not to be successful as a Nordic telco today.

Revenue and ARPU is growing. OPEX grows too, but slower than the revenue, so the EBITDA margins are increasing. Churn is decreasing. CAPEX is in decline. More cash is being generated.

We have identified seven signs that competition in cooling down in Nordic telco.

Sign 1. Mobile ARPU grows

Let’s start with Norway. The reported blended mobile ARPU has quite steadily increased for the two MNOs that still report it. For Telenor it grew 4% year-on-year to Q3 2023. For Telia it grew 3%.

Figure 1. Mobile ARPU, Norway (source data: operator reports)

In Sweden, the ARPU development has been a bit more dramatic than in Norway. Three players, first 3, then Telenor and the B2B side of Tele2, witnessed their ARPUs going down from 2018 to the first half of 2021. A corona effect, you might say. Not really; it started before corona started (Q1 2020) and compare with Telia who could keep their ARPU steady or even increase it when 3, Telenor and Tele2 B2B seemingly fought a battle on price.

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Who has the best mobile network in the Nordics – 2023?

Opensignal’s Global Mobile Network Experience Awards 2023 again showed that the mobile networks of Sweden, Finland – and especially Norway and Denmark – provide some of the best experiences in the world. Some Nordic operators are even top ranked in Opensignal’s 5G Global Mobile Network Experience Awards.

But there are several companies – some with global, some with local ambitions – that offer their take on who has the best mobile network. To differentiate, providers define different metrics and use different methodologies. Rather than boring you with those, we have compiled a cross-case table naming the winner per each metric across three global network experience specialists: Opensignal (now having merged with Tutela), Ookla Speedtest and umlaut.

We have included the latest overall or 5G-specific tests made public in Q4 2022 or 2023.

The named winner per metric in the latest mobile network performance tests performed in Q4 2022 or 2023 by Opensignal, Ookla Speedtest and umlaut. All source links are available at the end of this blog.
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Benchmarking fibre pricing in Denmark with eight other European countries, 2023

Fiberalliancen is a trade association for companies that own, operate and use fibre networks in Denmark. It is a part of Green Power Denmark.

For the third time (previously done in 2021 and in 2022), Tefficient has performed a comprehensive fibre broadband pricing benchmark covering nine European markets: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK and France.

In a press release, Fiberalliancen introduces Tefficient’s analysis and makes it publicly available. Download it from the right ‘Dokumenter’ column. It’s in English.

The release concludes that:

  • Denmark has some of the lowest consumer prices for both new and existing fibre connections.
  • Danish consumer prices – both for new and existing connections – have overall fallen from 2022 to 2023. This is only seen in Denmark and the Netherlands.

Tefficient’s approach has been thorough and the results are presented in a set of graphs like below.

Example graph from the analysis showing the total 2-year fee for the new build fibre case. The red trend line highlights Denmark’s position.

Commissioned by Fiberalliancen.

Closing the ‘inflation deficit’

Since the onset of inflation in Europe at the beginning of 2022, Tefficient has been reporting on its progress through a series of LinkedIn posts and tweets. We have compared the overall inflation to the inflation within the ‘Communication’ component of the European Central Bank’s Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP).

The ‘Communication’ component closely reflects telecommunication prices, encompassing telecommunication services and equipment, albeit also including postal services. In August 2023, it accounted for 2.7% of the expenditure weight in HICP for the Eurozone.

If we rewind to a year ago, Europe’s telecommunications companies had a significant ‘inflation deficit’ when compared to the overall inflation. The graph below illustrates the gap between:

  • The overall annual inflation rate
  • The annual inflation rate within ‘Communication’
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Mobile operators demonstrate strengthened ability to improve ARPU on the back of data usage growth

Tefficient, in its 38th public analysis of mobile data trends, has ranked 116 operators based on metrics like average data usage per subscription, total data traffic and revenue per gigabyte. This issue covers the full year of 2022 and the first half of 2023.

Notably, 97% of operators witnessed an upswing in data usage per subscription in 2022, with 75% of them successfully translating this into increased ARPU.

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Assessment of Norwegian mobile and fixed broadband pricing in a Nordic context – 2023

Reference: Analysis, 2023

Norway’s Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development last week published two analyses commissioned from Tefficient.

The conclusion is summarised (in Norwegian) in a press release from the Ministry.

Both analyses are quite comprehensive and compare Norway to the three fellow Nordic countries Denmark, Sweden and Finland. It means that they are highly interesting not just for the industry and policy makers in Norway, but in all four countries.

An example graph from the fixed analysis:

Since the Ministry has made both analyses available for public download, you can access them directly and for free from here:

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ARPU growth almost always slower than inflation

Tefficient’s 37th public analysis of mobile data development and drivers compares trends across 37 countries worldwide, excluding M2M/IoT from the total bases.

Previous analyses have shown that the pandemic led to a significant increase in mobile data usage. However, the demand for more mobile data has since slowed down. In 2022, Czechia experienced the highest growth rate in mobile data usage, reaching 59%. At the other end of the spectrum, Qatar and Taiwan had relatively lower increases, both below 9%.

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Creating convergent service bundles for SMEs

Reference: Analysis, 2023

Operators often face uncertainty when addressing small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs). Should they treat SMEs like consumers or corporate customers? SMEs, being akin to a close-knit family, is a mass market but could sometimes require a personalised approach. Should operators assign dedicated sales representatives to cater to their specific needs and assemble tailored solutions?

While many operators equate convergence with fixed-mobile services, its scope extends far beyond that. Convergent SME bundles should not be limited to combining fixed and mobile services alone. SMEs have diverse requirements that operators can effectively address, such as switchboard functionality, contact center tools, office software, domain and hosting, cloud storage, cyber security, insurance, and more.

Example from Free (France)
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Nordic operator benchmark 2023: A decade of excellence

Reference: Benchmarks, 2023

In its tenth year, our comprehensive business benchmark raised the standard with an extensive range of 964 key performance indicators (KPIs). Covering crucial areas such as revenue, OPEX, CAPEX, headcount productivity, subscriptions & channels, performance, load, quality, and innovation & growth, this benchmark caters to 53 functions across mobile, fixed, and integrated operators.

Exclusively sourced from leading Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Danish operators, the peer group data is of the highest quality. To honor pre-agreed confidentiality requirements, participating operators remain anonymous, safeguarding the privacy of their data.

Tefficient’s benchmark has earned the reputation of being the industry’s best-kept secret. However, its outstanding value has enticed a couple of new participants this year, joining the returning operators who actively rely on the benchmark to drive continuous improvement.

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High data usage countries do better on ARPU development than low-usage countries

Tefficient’s 36th public analysis of the development and drivers of mobile data compares the trends of 45 countries globally.

In our previous analyses, we saw that the pandemic led to an increase in the mobile data usage. The demand for more mobile data has since slowed. Czechia experienced the fastest growth in mobile data usage in 2022: 56%. On the other end of the spectrum, Iceland witnessed a decrease in usage. Austria, China, Malaysia and Norway had some increase, but it was below 9%.

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