The number of mobile broadband accesses has expanded steadily as users continue to add tablets, modems and phones as alternative communication methods. The sector is a dynamic contributor to the Australian economy, providing a range of productivity benefits. A growing proportion of mobile broadband subscribers are migrating from 3G to LTE. With Telstra and Optus having invested in 700MHz spectrum, the reach of their LTE services are set to increase substantially from 2015 when their spectrum allocations are made available. Near national coverage within a couple of years will see wider take-up from consumers.
While the number of LTE subscribers grows rapidly, technological developments have also progressed. Telstra has proved its market lead, showcasing 450Mb/s capabilities for LTE by combining three channels. Vodafone's 1800MHz assets have also led the operator to emphasise the fast data downloads available on its network. Networks face daunting data demands from customers, and though they can at times be strained, the MNOs are responding by adding capabilities and applications in an effort to reduce their overall costings. Customer preference for WiFi from the home and workplace environments has meant that mobile broadband growth is mainly is this segment, with growth from dedicated data cards being far lower.
Messaging services have provided steady revenue for MNOs, given that the charge to send messages is far higher than the transmission cost. The service remains popular, and though many bundles offer unlimited SMS it will be regulated in future after the ACCC found that negotiated wholesale price settlements among MNOs have been ineffective in bringing charges more in line to costs.
The use of these sophisticated devices in Australia continues to grow among consumers. Increasingly used as a preferred access point for the internet, they account for a growing proportion of data consumed in the mobile and WiFi environments. Smartphone penetration reached about 90% by mid-2014, while surveys have shown that about 60% of respondents have a tablet. These figures will increase steadily into 2015 and 2016 as a greater number of competitively priced units hit the market, and as the reach of LTE networks widen.
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