Despite the considerable deleterious effects of TC PAM on the industry, Vanuatu has sustained significant growth in subscribers of mobile services this year to achieve record numbers in 2015. There has been a year-on-year increase by 16% in average monthly mobile subscribers.
Telecommunications Radiocommunications and Broadcasting Regulator (TRBR) is pleased to note that the number of monthly subscribers to mobile services throughout 2015 continued to remain higher than the peak total, 159148, achieved in December 2014, including the months directly after TC PAM. This indicates the significant growth achieved in Q4 of 2014 was retained and built on, and that it was not only a temporary uptake in mobile use due to promotions or other factors such as the traditional peak in sales in the run-up to Christmas.
The number of monthly subscribers is defined as the total number of pre-paid and post-paid subscribers to have initiated a chargeable event within the last 90 days. Due to the considerable and wide-ranging damage to the networks and infrastructure this sustained level of monthly subscribers in 2015 indicates that the majority of users were accessing the network within three months of TC PAM. However, due to the lag-effect of this indicator - as it includes mobile use from the 3 previous months - there was still a clear drop in subscribers in June as some users were unable to regain access to the network post cyclone.
Although the cyclone evidently slowed growth in mobile uptake, growth was sustained to achieve a peak of 190,424 in December 2015; over 30,000 users more than the same month in 2014.This was testament to urgent recovery works done by both mobile operators to repair their networks and reconnect users so quickly after the cyclone.
The number of internet subscribers in Vanuatu continued to grow in 2015 following the installation of the ICN1 submarine cable in 2014 and service providers’ efforts to make available this service to users. The heavy competition between internet service providers (ISPs) was stimulated by operators introducing new, cheaper offers particularly with new and improved unlimited download plans as well as increasing internet speeds. Customers in Vanuatu can connect to the internet through a broad and increasing range of technologies and transmission methods as ISPs adopt and adapt technologies to suit the unique requirements of our market.
There has been significant growth in the number of users accessing the internet via mobile data, with both mobile operators now offering a range of 3G enabled smartphones for under 5000vt and the number of people, particularly young people, who now have the tools to access the internet; hence this service has grown considerably in recent years. Since the submarine cable landed in 2014 mobile operators have had access to greater amounts of internet bandwidth at lower cost than the previous satellite connections, and this has led to much more competitive and affordable data bundles being available to consumers. The price per MB of data allowance dropped considerably in 2015 with weekly bundles being available at an average rate of 15vt/MB in November 2014 to as little as 1vt/MB in 2015 or 2vt/MB with Facebook included free as part of the bundle.
The number of fixed phone line customers continues to decline steadily as many domestic or small business users switch to mobile services. With the high upfront fixed cost and monthly line rental charges of a fixed line service, it can be more cost effective and practical for these lower traffic customers to choose mobile plans which generally have the same, or cheaper, advertised per minute call rates. It can also be easier for operators themselves and some larger businesses now use fixed PABX (private automatic branch exchange) systems in their offices that use mobile SIMs in each desktop handset to avoid the difficulties in installing a whole new wired system.
The simplest indicator of the general health of the telecommunications industry is by analysing the gross revenues of all the service providers in Vanuatu. The trend in revenues, over time, allows insight to see if telecommunications is growing, decreasing or staying constant. Many sectors in Vanuatu suffered significant drops in revenue due to the on-going effects of TC PAM and there were added pressures on household incomes as people bore the costs of repairing the damages to their property and livelihoods. From information gathered, the telecommunication industry managed, however, to withstand these added pressures on consumers spending to achieve record revenues in 2015.
It is clear from the graph below the substantial growth stimulated by the introduction of competition in telecommunications revenues from 2008 when the Government of Vanuatu liberalised the market for telecommunications. After several years of slow but steady growth from 2010 to 2013, as the market settled and new users continued to access a mobile network, there has been a clear growth in revenues in 2014 and 2015. Telecommunications Radiocommunications and Broadcasting Regulator (TRBR) particularly attributes this increase in growth to the landing of the submarine cable in Vanuatu in 2014, and the resultant growth in internet usage; so bringing in new products and services and new revenue streams for telecommunications providers.