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MALTATODAY 13 November 2022

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8 NEWS maltatoday | SUNDAY • 13 NOVEMBER 2022 MARIANNA CALLEJA THE growing need for internet access on the move has made broadband the primary means of connectivity, effectively kill- ing off the mobile phone's Short Messaging System (SMS). Greater mobility and internet connectivity have had a signif- icant impact on telephone lan- dlines and traditional mail, as the Malta Communications Au- thority's (MCA) annual report shows how the pandemic has- tened the transition to "com- munication on-the-go". The increased use of inter- net-based messaging systems like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger meant that in 2021, the number of SMS messages had dropped to 267 per sub- scriber from 286 a year earlier. In 2017, 558 SMSs per subscrib- er were sent. Landlines take a hit, leading to higher tariffs Mobile telephony and land- lines faced significant uncer- tainty in 2020, the first year of the pandemic. However, mobile telephony rebounded in 2021, with a year-on-year increase in subscriptions as travel started to recover. Calls and minutes from fixed- line phones decreased by 27% annually since 2018, leading to an increase in the average fixed- line tariff per minute. The MCA found that the rev- enue for a national fixed call stood at 12c in 2021, up from 9c in 2020, while the rate for an international call stood at 48c in 2021. The business sector was more prone to subscribe to bundle deals, with subscriptions up by almost 23% year-on-year. The MCA said a significant percent- age of existing cli- ents switched from a stand-alone set- up to one acquired in conjunction with other telecom services. There are cur- rently four tele- c o m m u n i c a t i o n s providers offering fixed telephony ser- vices: GO, Melita, Epic and Vanilla Tel- ecommunications. In 2021, GO lost two percentage points in its fixed-telephony market share, to slightly less than 50%. At the same time, Melita gained market share by the same mar- gin to reach 46%. Epic's market share stood at 4% by the end of 2021, slightly down from 4.1% a year earlier. Mobiles more attractive The last few years saw the in- troduction of new fibre optic connection, hybrid fibre-coax cable and fifth generation (5G) mobile networks. This change materialised against the back- drop of 5G deployment and a 30% increase in domestic mo- bile data use year-on-year. The need for data connectivity on the move caused the aver- age data unit per subscription to rise from 53GB per month in 2020, to 76GB in 2021. Signifi- cantly, the sector added almost 12,000 new clients with growth in take-up marked by stronger uptake of post-paid plans. Mobile subscriptions were up by 1.9% year-on-year, reaching a total of 644,955 by the end of 2021. Even though pre-paid plans have been in decline for a num- ber of years, with 14,000 remov- ing their pre-paid subscription in the past 12 months, 56% of mobile subscriptions were still of this type. Mobile post-paid subscrip- tions reported high growth, with around 25,600 subscrip- tions made in the past 12 months. In such a subscription, the user receives the service but pays the bill at the end of billing cycle. Local service providers offer an array of electronic commu- nications services in a bundle, but most of their subscribers still purchase their mobile sub- scription on stand-alone con- tract terms rather than incorpo- rating it into a bundle featuring fixed services. Epic held a leading market share in the mobile telepho- ny market by the end of 2021, at 36.9% — slightly ahead of GO's 36.5%. Melita's market share stood at 25.6%. Year-on- year, Melita registered a market share gain, whilst Epic and GO saw their market share decline by 0.9 and 0.5 percentage points respectively. MCC noted that clients were less likely to switch providers in 2020, when COVID-related un- certainty was at its highest. With COVID travel restric- tions being lifted in 2021, the volume of inbound and out- bound roaming calls rose by 23.5% and 8.3% respective- ly when compared to 2020. Outbound roaming min- utes were also up, in this case by 4.6%. Fixed broadband subscriptions skyrocket Fixed broadband subscriptions reached a whopping 221,198 us- ers by the end of 2021, up by al- most 4% from 2020. MCA characterised these new users on plans as customers in need of fast download speeds. This led to subscription plans offering download speeds of 100Mbps or more being pre- ferred by users. In fact, while subscriber base grew by 8,166 clients in 2021, the number of subscriptions to such plans was up by 26,314 during the same period. Local operators offer fixed broadband over different tech- nologies, with fibre-to-the- home (FTTH) gradually taking over from the copper-based Digital Subscriber Line (DSL). FTTH subscriptions were up by 12,365 in the 12-month pe- riod till the end of 2021. This was due to companies replac- ing their DSL infrastructure, switching their clients accord- ingly to FTTH. This explains the year-on-year drop of 8,812 in copper-DSL subscriptions during the same period. The MCA report shows that the number of broadband sub- scriptions on fixed wireless technology (home wifi) was up by 5% year-on-year, to reach 14,752 subscribers by the end of 2021. As at the end of 2021, 94.3% of all broadband subscriptions were included in a bundle, up by 1.1 percentage points year- on-year In Malta, fixed broadband ser- vices are largely provided by three operators. These are GO, Melita and Epic. Their market shares only changed marginally year-over-year. Melita's mar- ket share stood at 48.4% at the end of 2021. In the same peri- od, GO's market share fell from 47% to 46.9%, while Epic's grew from 4.4% to 4.6%. UK, China customs clearing hits mail The pandemic continued to have a detrimental influence on postal mail. The ongoing shift from a paper-based to a digital environment has also led to the fall in junk mail itself. Other variables, such as changes in the procedures for clearing customs for goods travelling from the UK and Chi- na, had a detrimental impact on postal mail operations, particu- larly inbound cross-border cor- respondence as well. In 2021, postal mail volumes fell by 3.4% compared to the previous year. The authority noted that these results were consistent with the postal industry's escalating competitiveness with prospects offered by technological ad- vancements. Postal mail went down from 32.2 million mail items to 31.1 million mail items in the year under review. The largest drops were in letter mail and parcel mail, which decreased by 13% and 8.4%, respectively. The COVID pandemic hastened the transition from traditional communication methods like landlines and postal mail, to communication on-the-go How broadband killed the SMS text

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