Vodafone, Orange report growing mobile user numbers

Orange SA, the French mobile phone group, and U.K.-based Vodafone Group PLC in the U.K. on Tuesday both reported growing mobile telecommunication subscriber numbers in all of its markets, though the revenue derived per user declined for both companies in the fourth quarter.

In separate statements, the companies said that previous declines in the average revenue per user (ARPU) have begun to stabilize. Vodaphone in particular pointed to "seasonal effects" for the decline in its fourth quarter ARPU figure from the previous quarter.

Orange SA, which was based in the U.K. before being bought by France Télécom SA on Sept. 1, 2000, says that it is now outpacing rival Vodafone, still the world's largest mobile phone operator. Both mobile telecommunication operators released reports indicating growth in subscriber numbers in all markets, including the U.S. for Vodafone through its holdings in Verizon Wireless Inc.

For the quarter ending Dec. 31, 2001, Vodafone reported 99.86 million registered users, with half of those being prepaid customers, the company said. Last week, in a separate statement, Vodafone announced that it had passed the 100 million subscriber mark.

The company added 4.2 million new users in the fourth quarter, Vodafone said. New sales accounted for 3.1 million new users, while just over 1 million new users were acquired through increased stakes in partially owned companies such as J-Phone Communications Co. Ltd., the Japan Telecom Co. Ltd.'s cellular arm, which added 1 million new users to Vodafone's base, the company said.

Vodafone reported 13.63 million subscribers in the Americas, with 12.99 million of those coming from Verizon Wireless in the U.S.

For its part, Orange reported a customer base of 39.27 million customers by Dec. 31, 2001, with 17.8 million based in France, 12.39 million based in the U.K. and 9.06 million based in the rest of the world. That was a 29 percent increase over 2000, Orange said.

As part of France Télécom SA's financial report for 2001, annual revenue for Orange in 2001 grew by 25 percent to €15.06 billion (US$13 billion as of Dec. 31, the last day of the company's fourth quarter), Orange said.

Orange's ARPU in France was €392 in 2001 (compared to €426 in 2000), its "blended annual rolling ARPU" (a combination of subscriber and prepaid customers) was £246 (US$347 as of Dec. 31, 2001) in 2001, compared to £280 in 2000. That decrease was due mainly to the number of prepaid customers in the first half of the year, Orange said. Orange's annual rolling contract ARPU in the U.K. was £550 in 2001, compared with £525 in 2000, the company said.

Vodafone's ARPU for 2001 dropped to £274 in the U.K., a decline of £7 in the October to December period, the company said. ARPU also declined in Germany though it held firm in Italy, Vodafone said.

Both Vodafone and Orange reported growth in revenue from data, though neither provided financial figures. Vodafone's data revenue, primarily through SMS (Short Message Service) text messaging, grew by 12 percent in December alone and 10 percent in 2001 compared to 2002, Vodafone said.

MmO PLC, the renamed wireless division spun off from British Telecommunications PLC (BT) in November, will release it's fourth quarter subscriber numbers next Tuesday, Feb. 5.

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