Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How Can U.S. Wireless Carriers Have the World’s Highest ARPUs and Some of the Lowest Rates?

          U.S. wireless carriers, their trade associations and sponsored researchers do not want widespread understanding that the U.S. market generates the highest average revenue per user (“ARPU”) returns in the world. “Verizon Wireless, NTT DOCOMO, AT&T, Softbank and KDDI reported highest wireless data revenues among other global top 10.”  B.P. Tawari, Beyond 4G Blog Site, New Report : Global Wireless Data Update Q1,2010 (Aug. 4, 2010); available at: http://www.beyond4g.org/new-report-global-wireless-data-update-q12010.  Leading ARPUs range in the 35-40%.

         U.S. carriers prefer to emphasize that they offer some of the lowest rates globally.  The carriers conclude that if market forces necessitate having to offer low rates, then the wireless marketplace must be fiercely competitive, notwithstanding best in class ARPUs.

       How these carriers generate massive ARPUs while also offering low rates?  Answer: All You Can Eat Pricing (“AYCE”) for extremely high volume customers with extremely high margin rates for low volume customers. It is easy for a wireless carrier to claim per minute voice and per text rates are extremely low, even if in fact most customers do not come close to using all of their allotted minutes of use and texts.  With all you can eat buffet pricing, wireless carriers can claim incredibly small margins for serving the households that, for example, generates several thousand text messages monthly.  For customers unwilling to pay the $20 monthly rate, wireless carriers can charge 20 cents a text for a service that costs less than one tenth of a cent to deliver.

          Wireless carriers want to eliminate AYCE pricing particularly for data service.  But in doing so they risk a clearer understanding of just how profitable and uncompetitive they are.
 

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