In Norway, 4G and fibre are on the rise, and so is MMS. Wait, what?

MMS, the messaging service that first first achieved popularity a decade ago, is surging in Norway. But why?

On the rise in Norway: MMS. Image: Shutterstock

NPT, Norway's telecoms regulator, recently published its annual report into the country's mobile and broadband markets. The findings reveal quite a few expected trends, as well as one totally unexpected one.

In total, investment in communication services and infrastructure increased from NOK 7.67bn (€940m) in 2012 to NOK 8.3bn (€ 1.02bn) in 2013. The biggest growth factors were rollouts of new fibre infrastructure (NOK 576m) and LTE investments (NOK 356m) for mobile networks.

Fibre broadband growth

Fibre broadband is the fastest growing technology among consumers. At end of 2013, NPT recorded nearly 1.8 million subscriptions for fixed-line consumer broadband. Of those, around 470,000 were fibre broadband — an increase of 80,000 subscriptions compared to the previous year. In the same period, xDSL based broadband lost 45,000 subscribers.

The total figures from NPT's study shows that telecoms revenue from end users fell by NOK 453 million last year, to a total of NOK 3.9bn (€3.8bn).

4G rising sharply

The country's operators invested over NOK 10bn in 4G, if the NOK 1.8bn they paid for their 4G spectrum licences is taken into account.

Uptake of 4G is rising sharply in Norway these days. In 2012 there was almost no 4G LTE subscribers in the country. By end of 2013, the share of mobile subscribers that had converted to 4G during the year hit 18 percent.

The trend can also be seen alongside changes in the number of data-only mobile subscriptions, with take-up falling by 14,000 subscriptions in 2013. The explanation for the drop is thought to be that consumers have stopped buying separate data-only subscriptions for their tablets, and are instead using their smartphones directly to access data services or tethering their tablets.

At the same time, the volume of data transported over mobile networks is rising fast. According to NPT's study, it increased by 13 million GB overall between 2012 and 2013.

MMS increase

One of the more curious facts from NPT's report is a rise in MMS traffic over the year. As expected, thanks to the rise of messaging apps, SMS traffic fell by 370 million messages compared to the previous year, to just over six billion.

However, MMS traffic rose for the second consecutive year in NPT's studies. The year on year increase was 12 million messages in 2013, and 24 million in 2012. The total volume is just short of 150 million messages in total per year now.

Compared to the SMS traffic, the MMS volumes are quite small, but the trend is arguably curious.

A couple of mobile market analysts have speculated in the Norwegian press about the reasons for this trend, without reaching any concrete conclusions.

One plausible explanation may come from the fact that Norway's second largest mobile operator, TeliaSonera-owned NetCom, is offering free MMS traffic with all its mobile subscriptions. Even though incumbent Telenor isn't doing likewise, NetCom's market share in Norway is just above 23 per cent, and is likely to account for the increase in MMS traffic on its own.

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