Mobile Telephony Fuels Telecoms Sector’s Growth

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Key Trends in SEE telecommunications sector in 2009:

  • Growth of revenue in the telecommunications sector, which includes fixed and mobile telephony, and increase in the provision of internet services and cable television;
  • Drop in revenue and lower penetration of fixed-line telephony in most countries;
  • Growth of revenue and increase in mobile telephony penetration;
  • Rise in revenue and coverage of 3G services, growth of smart phone sales.


The total revenue of the telecommunications sector in 2008 in Bulgaria, Moldova, Мontenegro, Romania and Serbia amounted to 8.667 billion euro, up 10.7% on the year. The revenue from mobile telephony was 5.289 billion euro, accounting for 61%of the sector’s total, while fixed telephony contributed 31.8% to the total revenue with sales of 2.755 billion euro.

Data for 2009 was available for Moldova and Serbia only. The 12.8% annual drop in fixed-line telephony revenue in Moldova entailed a 1.7% fall in the total revenue of the telecommunications sector. Fixed-line telephony revenue was 5.630 billion Moldovanlei (319 million euro), while mobile telephony revenue totalled 3.034 billion lei (172 million euro) in 2009, up 4.1% year-on-year.

In 2009 the total revenue of Serbia’s telecommunication sector amounted to 1.510 billion euro (4.8% of the country’s gross domestic product, GDP), compared to 1.610 billion euro (4.9% of GDP) in 2008. However, the average annual growth of telecommunications in the period from 2005 to 2009 was 13%, which makes it one of the most profitable sectors of the national economy. In 2009 the share of mobile telephony revenue in the total telecommunications revenue fell to 54.8%from 61% a year earlier, while the share of fixed-line revenue rose to 29% from 25%.In Albania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Montenegro,Romania, Serbia and Slovenia the total revenue of the telecommunications sector accounted for between 3.3% and 9.9% ofthe countries’ GDP for 2008. The share of telecommunications revenue as a percentage of GDP was highest in Montenegro, 9.9%and in Moldova, 9.1%.


In 2009 the growth in the number of fixed line subscribers slowed down due to the widespread use of mobile phones and VoIPservices provided by software applications such as Skype, Google Talk and Jutvoip.

The steady rise in the use of IP telephony can be attributed to the advantages that such technology offers – lower monthly calls costs and subscriber fees, and the option for integration of new technologies and combination with other electronic communications services. This rapid grow this expected to persist, with IP telephony replacing the traditional fixed telephone services in the future. This evolution is best observed in Slovenia. In the beginning of2009 more than 232,840 such connections were established, up 91.2% year-on-year and a nearly fourfold rise compared to the beginning of 2007.

Although the market share of the incumbent fixed line operators in terms of both value and volume continued to shrink in 2008 and 2009, they still dominate the fixed telephony market in all SEE countries and their marketshare is much higher than the average for the EU-27 countries. In terms of total revenue from fixed-line calls, the average marketshare of the incumbent operators in Bulgaria,Macedonia, Moldova and Serbia was 96%for 2008, while the average EU level was 70.2%. Only in Croatia the market share,by revenue and by minutes of traffic, of the alternative operators exceeded 20% in 2009.

In July 2009 the fixed-line telephony penetration rate in the EU-27 countries stood at 40%. In the whole SEE region there are considerable variations in the levels of fixed line telephony penetration, with Albania and Kosovo at relatively low levels and Croatia and Serbia at levels comparable to the EU-27 average.

The fixed broadband penetration rate in the SEE countries lags behind the EU-27a verage. It was highest in Slovenia, at 22.9%as of January 2010, and in Croatia, at 13.44%as of July 2009. In Romania and Bulgaria the penetration rate was 12.30% and 11.90%,respectively. In January 2010 the EU-27 fixed broadband penetration rate was 24.80%.


Mobile telephony remains the driver of the telecommunications market in the EU andSEE countries. In 2009 the average mobile penetration in SEE was 111%, still below the EU-27 average of 127%. However, mobile penetration continued to grow in all SEE countries except Macedonia, reaching and sometimes exceeding the EU-27 level. At the head were Bulgaria, with a penetration rateof 141%, Croatia with 137% and Albania with 132%.

The growth of mobile penetration was accompanied by intensified competition and falling retail prices. Macedonia, Albania,Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo saw a significant drop of retail mobile prices. However, especially in Bulgaria, consumer prices for calls between different mobile networks (off-net) are still significantly higher than prices for calls within a single network(on-net) thus forcing consumers to hold more than one mobile subscription.

Regarding mobile number portability,Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Serbia and Moldova failed to introduce the service in 2009. In Serbia mobile number portability will be introduced in January 2011.

The growth of the mobile broadband continued with 3G mobile services now available in most SEE countries. Dedicated mobile data cards in Croatia achieved 4.5%penetration, surpassing the EU-27 average of4.2%. However, in terms of 3G penetration,the level in Eastern and Southeastern Europeof 15.1% was considerably lower than inthe Western European countries, where it reached 37.6% in 2009.


Growing 3G penetration boosted mobile internet revenue but 3G services still account for only a small share of the total revenue of the mobile telephony operators. The revenue from mobile internet in Bulgaria for 2008 made only 1.0% of the local sector’s total revenue, while for the EU-27 the a veragerate was 4.0%.

The 3G mobile services are pushing up handset sales and data transfer revenue of telecom operators across Southeastern Europe as the region aims to catch up with Western Europe where the smartphone penetration rate is already at around 18%, according to an analysis published by See News in July 2010.

In Croatia smartphones already account fora third of the handsets sold by the country’s iPhone carrier Hrvatski Telekom (T-HT).Vipnet, another wireless carrier in Croatia, also said it sees constant growth in smartphone sales.

In Macedonia smartphones made up 3.0%of mobile handset sales at mobile telephony operator T-Mobile, the iPhone carrier on the local market. The company expects the sales of smartphones to rise thanks to the new types of operating system installed in the phones and new services to be offered.

With Bulgarian mobile carrier GLOBUL smartphone users account for around 13%of the customers and their share continues to grow. Although voice services continue to be the dominant segment of mobile communications, the use of data transfer services by GLOBUL subscribers has seen three-digit growth since 2007.

Smartphones as of July 2010 made up 15-16%of the handset sales of Bulgaria’s incumbent telecommunications company Vivacom, which provides both fixed-line and mobile services.

The smartphone penetration rate in Bulgaria was 4.0% in 2009, significantly below the global average of 18%, according to LG Electronics Bulgaria. The low penetration rate gives the segment an opportunity for strong growth in the future. LG Electronics Bulgaria expects that smartphone sales in the country will jump several times, perhaps reaching 10% of the total market in 2010.


A total of 1.648 billion euro were invested in the telecommunications sector in Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia in 2008, down by 2.7% on the year. In Romania and Slovenia the investments in the sector as a portion of the countries’ GDP stood at 0.7%, while in Bulgaria they accounted for 1.2% of the GDP for 2008. Slovenia was third, Bulgaria fourth and Romania ranked sixth in the EU in terms of investment over revenues ratio with 22.5%, 22.3% and 21.2%, respectively. The EU average stood at 14%.

In Moldova investments in telecommunications amounted to 1.750 billion Moldovan lei (99.3million euro), down 10.9% on the year in 2009.

The SEE region saw several acquisitions and three mergers in 2009. The most active player was Greek mobile phone operator Cosmote SA, which took part in three acquisition deals. Major mergers in the SEE telecommunication ssector took place in Bulgaria, Croatia and Macedonia. In Bulgaria and Croatia the mobile arms of the countries’ incumbent telecom companies merged with their other operations - BTC Mobile EOOD (operatingunder the brand Vivatel) merged with Bulgarian Telecommunications CompanyAD (BTC), which now operates under the brand Vivacom. A similar process happened in Croatia where the incumbent telecom HT–Hrvatske Telekomunikacije d.d. merged with its mobile telephony subsidiary T-MobileHrvatska d.o.o. Following the merger, it changed its name to Hrvatski Telekom d.d.

In Macedonia, Slovenia’s telecommunication company Telekom Slovenije d.d. acquired Cosmofon DOO, the Macedonian wireless unit of Greek Cosmote SA. Later the Slovenian company merged Cosmofon and Macedonian internet and fixed-line operator into ONE Operator DOO.

Major Acquisitions in SEE Telecommunications Sector in 2009

Target Country Buyer Vendor Deal size/Details
AMC (mobile phone operator) Albania Cosmote SA (Greece) N/A a 12.6% stake for EUR 48.2 mln.
Orbitel AD (telecoms and internetservice provider) Bulgaria Spectrum Net AD (Bulgaria) Magyar Telekom Nyrt(Hungary) EUR 5.0 mln
M Svyat (mobile phone retail chain) Mobiltel EAD - M-Tel (Bulgaria) N/A 20 stores countrywide and M Svyatbrand
2be (mobile phone retail chain) BTC AD - Vivacom N/A 112 stores countrywide
Tis.kis (IT company) Croatia Kapsch CarrierCom AG (Austria) TIS Grupa d.o.o. (Croatia) a 68% stake
Cosmofon AD (mobile phoneoperator) Macedonia Telekom Slovenije d.d. (Slovenia) Cosmote SA (Greece) a 100% stake for EUR 190 mln
Germanos Telekom AD (mobilephone retail chain)
Telemobil SA - Zapp brand (mobilephone operator) Romania Cosmote SA (Greece) Saudi Oger Ltd (SaudiArabia) a 100% stake for EUR 207 mln
UPC Slovenia (cable and broadbandoperator) Slovenia Mid Europa Partners LLP (UK) Liberty Global Inc (USA) N/A

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