The European Union’s 28 member states are at very different stages in the development of their digital economies, according to an EC report, which includes a league table of how countries are faring with mobile broadband.
Nordic countries were described as “among the most advanced in the world,” whilst others “still have a lot of catching up to do”, the European Commission (EC) report observed.
When it comes to mobile broadband, which includes the availability of radio spectrum and the take-up of services, Finland, Sweden and Denmark took top spot with Estonia, while the lowest scores were registered by Hungary, Greece and Portugal.
The European Digital Progress Report also found that total telecom services revenues declined by 10 per cent in Europe since 2012 and operators in Europe generated less revenue than their US counterparts.
Revenues went down from €237 billion in 2012 to a forecasted €213 billion in 2016 (based on figures of 26 member states, which covered about 98 per cent of the total EU market).
The US also reduced its figures from €252 billion to €240 billion, but surpassed Europe despite its smaller population, the report noted.
Meanwhile, revenue from mobile voice and fixed voice revenues unsurprisingly decreased by over 25 per cent since 2012 but mobile data grew by 10 per cent, and will represent over a quarter (26 per cent) of total telecom revenues this year.
Fixed and mobile voice services made up 57 per cent of total telecom revenues in 2012, but will only represent 47 per cent in 2016.
By contrast, the growth in mobile data services is hailed as “remarkable”.
“The growth in mobile data services could not, however, compensate for the major decline in voice,” the report said.
Mobile broadband represented a “fast growing segment” of the broadband market.
More than 60 per cent of all active mobile SIM cards use mobile broadband and there are 75 active mobile broadband SIM cards per 100 people in the EU, up from 34 four years ago.
The growth was linear over the last three years with over 40 million new subscriptions added every year, the report said.
The Nordic countries and Estonia again lead the way, where there are already more than 100 subscriptions per 100 people, while in Hungary, Greece, Portugal and Slovenia the take-up rate is still below 50 per cent.
However, mobile broadband is still mainly complementary to fixed broadband: In 2015, just 8.1 per cent of EU homes accessed the internet only through mobile technologies.
Finland and Italy were leaders in mobile access to internet with 31 per cent and 22 per cent of homes using it in 2015, respectively.
Most of the mobile broadband subscriptions are used on smartphones rather than on tablets or notebooks but tablets are expected to be the “touchstone for mobile data traffic” in 2020, exceeding smartphones and laptops in average usage.
Mobile data traffic in 2020 is expected to be six times higher than in 2015.
BT’s acquisition of EE in the UK and Liberty Global’s acquisition of Base in Belgium suggests that owning a mobile network is an advantage for a fixed operator, which is worth investing in even if the operator is already present in mobile as a virtual operator, the report said.
Operators continued to show significant interest in M&A in Europe but truly cross-border mergers “still seem to be elusive,” the report observed.
In 2015 the main trend was still in-market consolidation or diversification in the same market.
4G mobile broadband availability reached 86 per cent, up from 27 per cent in 2012. 4G has been commercially launched in all states but coverage is still “substantially below” that of 3G.
As of October 2015, 80 per cent of operators offered 4G services on LTE networks.
LTE is most widely developed in the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, while commercial 4G services were launched only last year in Bulgaria.
LTE deployment has focused so far mainly in urban areas, as only 36 per cent of rural homes are covered.
The report used a digital economy and society index (DESI) to measure success, which summarises relevant indicators on Europe’s digital performance and tracks the progress of member states in digital competitiveness.
The index also looks at skills, use of internet, integration of technology and digital public services, in addition to connectivity.
Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland were found to have the most advanced digital economies in the EU followed by Belgium, the UK and Estonia.
Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Italy have the least advanced economies.
“The aim of this report is to achieve a real digital union by monitoring the implementation of digital reforms in member states to grasp the opportunities available to citizens and businesses of the digital single market,” the EC said.
Last month, Andrus Ansip, vice president for the digital single market, said: “We need the right scale for technologies such as cloud computing, data-driven science and the internet of things to reach their full potential.”