Point Topic Analysis: 4G LTE /5G tariffs provided by mobile operators across Europe
Point Topic has compared the average monthly subscription charges and download speeds offered by mobile broadband providers across the EU-28, Norway and Switzerland. All prices are quoted in US dollars at PPP (purchasing power parity) rates to allow for easier comparison.
Overall 4G/5G tariff trends
In Q2 2020, the average monthly charge for residential 4G/5G data services varied from $73.62 (PPP) in Greece to $17.27 (PPP) in Italy.
Figure 1. Average residential 4G/5G monthly tariff in PPP$, Q2 2020
In some instances, a relatively low average monthly charge comes with high average data cap (Figure 2). For example, this quarter Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands stand out as being at the high end of data allowances but at the low end of monthly charges, providing the best value for money to subscribers. This is reflected in the average cost per GB of data in these countries being among the lowest in Europe (Figure 3). In Slovakia, Czech Republic, Cyprus and Greece, on the other hand users pay a high monthly price for very low data allowance.
Figure 3. Average cost per GB of 4G/5G data in PPP$, Q2 2020
One of the factors which complicates comparing mobile broadband services between countries and against fixed broadband services is the fact that some mobile operators do not report bandwidth on their tariffs. Even when they do, the difference between the theoretical maximum bandwidths and the actual ones is much higher for mobile broadband compared to fixed.
Figure 4. Average theoretical downstream speed on residential 4G/5G services, Q2 2020
Nevertheless, Figure 4 shows which countries are investing in higher speed and more advanced networks, including those using the LTE-Advanced technology as well as those which are rolling out 5G. For example, Switzerland was among countries who offered lowest average downstream speeds in Q1 2019, however, after introducing 5G services it offers the second highest average downstream speed of 760Mbps and the top 5G speed of 2Gbps. The average speed in Italy also increased significantly after the 5G launch. The country now offers the highest average downstream speed of 1Gbps having overtaken Switzerland in Q4 2019. Denmark and Austria, among others, offer relatively low bandwidth, while being among the most generous markets in terms of data allowances.
 It should be noted that Denmark is a special case. The 71Mbps refers to the maximum download speed that the Danish operators are allowed to market after agreement with the consumer ombudsman. In fact, TDC’s theoretical maximum speed in 2018 was 413Mbps.
Regional and country benchmarks
The data will vary at a country level but when comparing the markets of Central & Eastern and Western Europe at a regional level, Western Europe came out on top in terms of the average data allowance with 167GB per month, compared to 116GB in Central & Eastern Europe. At the same time, customers in Western Europe were charged a lower average monthly subscription at $32.95 PPP. In Central & Eastern Europe, the same indicator was $37.26 PPP (Figure 5). Hence, the average cost per GB in Central & Eastern Europe was significantly higher at $0.32 PPP, compared to $0.20 PPP in Western European markets. In terms of downstream speeds, both regions recorded the same average speed of 242 Mbps.
Figure 5. Regional tariff benchmarks for residential 4G/5G services, Q2 2020
Among the selected six mature markets, Sweden stands out in terms of the top average data cap and Italy in terms of the lowest average monthly charge (Figure 6).
Figure 6. Tariff benchmarks for residential 4G/5G services in six major European economies, Q2 2020
The mobile operators in Sweden offer consumers on average 145GB a month while the Netherlands follow with 123GB average allowance. For several quarters in a row the Netherlands offered the highest average monthly charge among the selected six markets but in Q3 2019 the prices dropped significantly, and the country is now the second cheapest with only Italy offering a lower average monthly subscription of $17.27 PPP. The Netherlands offers the lowest average cost per GB, currently at $0.20 PPP, compared to $3.36 PPP in Germany (Figure 7).
Figure 7. Average data and cost of 4G/5G services in selected countries, Q2 2020 (in $PPP)
To compare the prices that residential customers pay for unlimited monthly 4G/5G data in various European markets, we selected the countries which offered such tariffs in Q2 2020 (Figure 8).
Figure 8. Entry level monthly charge for unlimited data on residential 4G/5G tariffs, Q2 2020
The entry level unlimited data tariffs in the countries at the high end of the spectrum (Sweden) were 3.5 times higher than those at the low end (Switzerland). However, when customers paid $54.84 PPP for unlimited data in Sweden, they were purchasing 4G services with speeds up to 300Mbps, while in Switzerland they were charged $15.57 (PPP) for the advertised 4G speed of up to 10Mbps.
Comparing countries by using the average cost of mobile broadband subscriptions is a straightforward idea but the variation in entry level versus median and average costs can be significant. To help provide an easy way of comparing directly we have taken the $PPP data on entry level, median and average tariffs, produced rankings and then compared the variance (Table 1).
Table 1. Country scorecard by residential 4G/5G tariffs, Q2 2020
* Countries which now offer 5G
We have included a ‘variance’ column to indicate how different ranks for the different metrics are spread. We see that the wide spread in Austria, Slovakia and Spain for example is represented by high variance. At the other end of the scale countries like Poland, Sweden or Croatia rank rather consistently.
Why such market differences between countries?
There is no simple clear-cut explanation as many factors come into play. The length of time after the 4G/5G networks were launched, service take-up, the market shares of ‘standalone’ and of multi-play bundles, the extent of competition from fixed broadband services with comparable bandwidth, the availability and the cost of 4G/5G spectrum, the regulatory pressures to offer mobile broadband services in remote and rural areas as a priority, the demographic characteristics and life-styles of the users and the cord-cutting tendencies will all have influenced the 4G and 5G offerings available in different European markets. A further statistical modelling would provide more insight into these differences.
What Point Topic measured
This analysis is based on more than 800 tariffs from all major mobile broadband providers from the EU-28, Norway and Switzerland. In total, we provide data on 88 operators from 30 countries. We track a representative sample of tariffs offered by each operator, making sure we include the top end, the entry level and the medium level tariffs, which results in a broad range of prices and data allowances.
We use this data to report on pan-European trends in tariffs and bandwidths offered. We also report on regional trends and variations across countries. The data can be used to track changes in the tariffs offered by individual operators as well.
We track mobile broadband tariffs provided over 4G LTE and LTE-Advanced technologies. For the sake of brevity, we are referring to both of them as ‘4G LTE’ or sometimes ‘4G’. From Q2 2019, a small number of 5G tariffs are included in our analysis. Countries which offered 5G commercially at the time of our quarterly data collection are marked with an asterisk (*).
Standalone and bundled
We record 4G / 5G tariffs which are offered as SIM only data only, some of which come with a device (a modem). From Q2 2017 onwards we do not track tariffs bundled with tablets. However, we do record multi-play service bundles (mobile broadband plus TV, fixed broadband and/or voice). From this quarter, they are not included in this analysis, only in the tariff database. We track monthly tariffs rather than daily, weekly or pay as you go, and exclude tariffs offered as part of the smartphone purchase.
Residential and business
We record both business and residential mobile broadband tariffs. The analysis in this report is based on residential tariffs.
To allow for comparison between countries with different living standards, this report refers to the tariffs in $ PPP (purchasing power parity). The data on PPP conversion rates is provided by the World Bank. The tariffs in our database are also available in local currencies, USD, EUR and GBP.
Notes on methodology
In order to represent the tariffs we collate more efficiently, we have consolidated the tariff benchmark spreadsheets into a single file. This is available to subscribers to the Mobile Broadband Tariffs service – click here to access the full file.
If there is a particular element that you cannot find, and you wish to have available please contact us on [email protected]
Coverage and methodology
A full set of mobile broadband tariff data is available for download as part of Point Topic’s Mobile Operator Tariffs Service. The data set contains the most up-to-date end of quarter tariff information including such details as monthly rental, connection speed, data allowance, equipment costs, service features and special offers.
Price comparison issues
This analysis is intended as a general indicator of the trends in 4G/5G service pricing across Europe. There are several additional variables that complicate the process of making a direct comparison of mobile broadband tariffs. They need to be taken into account when making a more in-depth analysis:
- Device charges: Some 4G/5G monthly tariffs include all charges for devices, for example, routers or dongles, whereas others come with additional one-off (upfront) costs which can be substantial. We include monthly device charges in the total monthly subscription, and it is this figure that is used in the analysis. One-off charges are more difficult to compare as they vary depending on the device and the monthly charge a user is prepared to pay.
- Bundling: Increasingly, mobile operators are entering the multi-play arena by bundling their mobile broadband services with voice services, fixed broadband and TV. At the moment, the Mobile Broadband Tariffs service provides access to a sample of multi-play bundles from Europe and beyond. Note: although 4G/5G tariffs which come with a device may be regarded as bundles, we refer to them as standalone mobile broadband services as the device such as a modem is regarded as ‘equipment’, in line with our fixed broadband tariff methodology. The analysis presented in the current report only refers to ‘standalone mobile broadband’ tariffs.
- Data allowances: Some operators offer entry-level services with very low data caps. From
Q1 2017, the minimum data allowance we include is 1GB per month. In most cases, however, these limits are generous enough for a typical user and, in some cases, even comparable to those offered by fixed broadband providers. An increasing number of tariffs are offered with ‘unlimited’ data usage. To make it possible to include these tariffs in our calculations, we assigned 600GB per month to the unlimited data tariffs.
- Downstream and upstream speeds: Some operators do not report mobile broadband speeds, not least because they are so variable. Others do, and where this is the case we record the theoretical maximum speed. In reality, the actual average speed can be lower up to 10 times or more. This should be taken into account when comparing 4G LTE services with fixed broadband, for example.