Communications Monitoring Report 2019
Retail Mobile Sector
On this page
- Subscriber data
- Other performance indicators
- Coverage/availability details
The retail mobile market remained the largest telecommunications market sector, with revenues of $27.1 billion in 2018, a growth of $2.63 billion (10.7%), over 2017 revenues. These revenues represented over 55% of all retail telecommunications revenues in 2018. The sector was one of two telecommunications retail sectors, the other being fixed Internet, that reported revenue growth in 2018 – all other sectors reported declines. In 2018, subscribers increased by 4.8% over the prior year to 33.2 million, and average revenue per user (ARPU) increased by 6.6% to $69.61. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) margins reached 41.0% in 2018.
Mobile networks covered approximately one fifth of Canada’s geographic land mass and reached 99% of Canadians in 2018, while the penetration rate reached 89.2%. Advanced wireless networks such as Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) which deliver even higher speeds than previous-generation networks, were available to approximately 99% and 95% of Canadians, respectively. At the end of 2018, LTE networks covered 87% of Canada’s major roads and highways,Footnote 1 leaving almost approximately 14,700 kilometres without LTE coverage.
Over the past decade, some progress has been made in fostering a more competitive mobile industry through of a combination regulatory initiatives including
- the auctions of licences for advanced wireless services (AWS) in the AWS-3 bands (1755-1780 megahertz [MHz] and 2155-2180 MHz);
- the auctions of licences in the 700 MHz, 2500 MHz, and 2300 MHz bands as well as the personal communications services (PCS)-G block (1865-1870 MHz and 1945-1950 MHz); and
- additional AWS-3 spectrum auctions (1755-1780 and 2155-2180 MHz)
- other government initiatives, such as the introduction of mandatory roaming and tower sharing, wholesale roaming rate regulation and the Wireless Code (which took effect in 2013 and was subsequently reviewed in 2017).
During this same period, Canadians’ mobile usage and options evolved. New service providers entered the market, and Canadians now have more choices than ever before. For example, Canadians can now choose alternative pricing and promotional offerings, unlimited provincial and nationwide long-distance services, unlimited national and international texting services, and faster mobile networks.
To measure the level of competitiveness in this sector, the retail mobile sector analysis presents data segmented between Bell Group, Rogers and TELUS (referred to hereafter as Top 3),Footnote 2 the Top 3’s flanker brandsFootnote 3 and other service providers (referred to hereafter as other providers).Footnote 4
Throughout this section, the Top 3’s flanker brands are a subset of the Top 3.
Revenues in the mobile service sector continued to account for the largest portion of telecommunications sector revenues, totalling $27.1 billion in 2018. Compared to the previous year, this was an increase of 10.7% above the five-year cumulative average growth rate of 6.7%. The Top 3 captured 91% of these revenues, leaving 9% to be divided among the remaining providers. Although the Top 3 lost about 1% in total revenue market share from 2014 to 2018, they were still able to retain about 91% through internal growth and acquisitions. High-level market share data for 2014 to 2018 can be found on open data.
The strong revenue growth reported in 2018 was a direct result of the implementation of new international financial reporting standards (IFRS)Footnote 5 that changed the way in which providers recognized mobile revenues derived from contracts with customers. This change in reporting resulted in terminal equipment revenues growing from $1.9 billion in 2017 to $7.0 billion in 2018, an increase of 267.2%. The year-over-year impacts of these reporting changes between 2017 and 2018, can be seen found in Figure 10.1 on open data.
Revenues from mobile data services have been one of the main drivers for sustained and strong revenue growth in this sector; in 2018, however, mobile data revenues recorded a loss of 8.2% for the first time ever. Mobile voice revenues continued to fall at a rapid pace. Overall, basic voice and long distance combined, revenues have decreased by 15.8% in 2018 and, on average, by 3.8% annually over the five-year period from 2014 to 2018.
Since the majority of mobile data service revenues were derived from postpaid subscribers, companies continued to promote larger data buckets to attract new customers and acquire existing users from their competitors.
Various mobile and paging service revenue components for the 2014 to 2018 period can be accessed on open data.
In 2018, 89% of mobile services revenues were derived from customers who subscribed to voice and data plans; this serves as a proxy to compare the levels of smartphone and regular cell phone adoption, as well as evidence of increased demand for data services. Those with voice-only plans generally own regular cell phones, which are mainly used for voice services and have limited data capabilities. Use of these phones may indicate a segment of society that is either less inclined to embrace the digital economy or has yet to do so.
RoamingFootnote 6 revenues, which represent approximately 4% of total retail mobile revenues, were largely generated from subscribers who used mobile services in the United States. Approximately 74% of voice roaming revenues and 55% of data roaming revenues were derived from users roaming in the United States, with very few revenues generated from within Canada. Short Message Service (SMS) and Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) revenues were excluded from the data revenue component of this figure.
|Top 3||Top 3’s flanker brands||Other providers|
|Revenue market share||90.7%||21.4%||9.3%|
|Revenue growth rates||9.4%||13.2%||24.5%|
|Revenues generated from postpaid plans||97.1%||Not available||90.7%|
The Top 3 market their mobile services through primary and flanker brands. By marketing their services through various market segments, they are able to differentiate their service offerings. Generally, the Top 3’s flanker brands and the new entrants have targeted the more value- and price-conscious consumers. Isolating the Top 3’s flanker brands and comparing their data to that of the other providers’ may provide a better comparison of the two groups’ abilities to compete for revenue market share.
As seen in Figure 10.3 below, all groups of competitors reported solid revenue growth rates in 2018 with the other providers reporting an exceptional growth rate of 24.5% in 2018, a sharp reversal from the negative 6.5% rate that they reported in 2017. Overall, the strong revenue growth for this sector can be attributed to the new reporting standards and to the increasing rate of subscriptions for mobile services.
In 2018, approximately 95% of mobile revenues were derived from postpaid plans and almost all data plans were postpaid. As data revenues continue to be most lucrative service component, there is a strong incentive for providers to compete for postpaid subscribers because of higher revenues per subscriber and lower churn rates. Figure 10.4 compares the percentage of revenues derived from certain postpaid retail mobile services (basic voice, long distance, and data only) by both the Top 3 and other providers.
ii. Subscriber data
In 2018, mobile subscribers grew by 4.8% to reach 33.2 million subscribers. This growth rate was more than two times slower than the revenue growth rate of 10.7%, indicating greater revenues per subscriber for 2018.
At the national level, the Top 3 continued to hold the majority (89.2%) of the subscriber market share, while their competitors divided the remainder (10.8%); however, there were regional differences. The Top 3’s market share varied among the provinces and territories. Collectively, they held the majority share in all territories as well as in all provinces except for Saskatchewan, where the other service providers held 60% of the market share (a decrease from the 66% they held in 2014). Provincial and territorial market share data can be found on open data.
In 2018, approximately 40% of all subscribers who subscribed to a data plan resided in Ontario. This figure closely aligns with the population distribution by province. Additional information with respect to the number of subscribers with a data plan and the distribution of data subscribers in each region of the country can be found on open data.
The appetite for mobile data services continued to grow in 2018. Approximately 40% of data subscribers had a plan with 5 or more gigabytes (GB) of data, while 64% of all subscribers had unlimited voice minutes and 96% had unlimited text messages. In comparison, these figures were 31%, 57% and 99%, respectively, in 2017.
Following the implementation of the Wireless Code in 2013, the percentage of postpaid plans under contracts of more than two years’ duration declined significantly, decreasing from 33.4% in 2014 to 7.2% in 2017. In 2018, however, this figure increased to 8.3%. Since business accounts were exempt from the Wireless Code, many of the accounts reported to have contracts exceeding two years’ duration reflect business accounts that were still under contract. The number of subscribers with one- to two-year contract terms remained unchanged at 49% both in 2017 and 2018. Additional details can be found via open data.
Due to the reporting requirements for each reporting group, only those companies that provided the data were included in the subscribers with a data plan statistics. Consequently, Figure 10.6 represents over 90% of total mobile subscribers. It illustrates the percent of subscribers with a data plan as well as the increasing appetite for data plans, subscriptions for which have steadily increased from 67% in 2014 to 85.3% in 2018. Figure 10.7 shows the distribution of data plan subscribers (excluding data-only plans) by plan size.
|Top 3||Top 3’s flanker brands||Other providers||All providers|
|Subscriber growth rates||3.8%||5.7%||14.9%||4.8%|
|Mobile subscriber market share||89.2%||27.2%||10.8%||100%|
|Subscribers with postpaid plans||88.8%||Not available||86.7%||88.5%|
|Subscribers with data plans||85.0%||Not available||91.7%||85.3%|
|Data subscribers whose plans included 5 GB or more of data||36.5%||Not available||59.1%||39.5%|
The other providers’ subscriber growth outpaced that of the Top 3. As a collective group, the other providers reported a 14.9% increase in subscribers in 2018, their highest reported growth rate in the past four years. As for data subscribers whose plans included 5 GB or more of data, the Top 3 reported an increase from 28.1% of such subscribers in 2017 to 36.5% in 2018; however, the other providers reported an increase of only 3% during this same period.
From 2015 to 2018, the Top 3’s subscriber market share did not change significantly. However, a comparison between the Top 3’s flanker brands and the other service providers offers insight into how the Top 3 have marketed, packaged and positioned their flanker brands to compete in the marketplace. From 2015 to 2018, the Top 3’s flanker brands held approximately one quarter of the subscriber market share, between double and triple that held by the other providers.
Both the Top 3 and the other providers have consistently and successfully positioned their plans to encourage their customers to favour postpaid subscriptions over prepaid ones. Consequently, the percentage of postpaid subscribers increased to 88.5% in 2018, compared to 85.5% in 2014. The shift from prepaid to postpaid subscriptions resulted in higher overall revenues and higher revenues per subscriber.
The figure below compares the distribution of data plan subscribers (excluding data-only plans), by plan size and by whether they have subscribed to plans offered by the Top 3 or by other providers.
iii. Other performance indicators
In addition to revenue and subscriber metrics, there are other indicators such as ARPU,Footnote 7 data usage, investmentsFootnote 8 and penetration rates that can help measure financial performance and assess the level of competition in the mobile sector.
Average capital expenditure per user (ACEPU) was computed by using only data from companies who supplied both capital expenditure and subscriber data, excluding spectrum expenditures. An end-of-year subscriber figure was used in the computation rather than an average number of subscribers during the year.
The increase in data demand and usage from 2014 to 2018 vastly outpaced the revenues derived from data service, which resulted in lower revenues per GB per month. The average revenue per 1 GB of data usage per month has been declining since this metric was first reported in 2015. Only companies that provided both data traffic and revenues were included in the calculation.
ARPU is a useful measure of the revenues that mobile providers receive per subscriber. Conversely, from a consumer perspective, it is a measure of consumers’ expenditures on wireless services. From 2014 to 2018, the national ARPU increased from $61.03 to $69.61 per month, an average increase of 3.3% per year. Provincial and territorial ARPU data for these years can be accessed on open data.
EBITDAFootnote 11 margins, a proxy for measuring the operating profitability of the mobile sector, were calculated for 2014 to 2018 and presented in the figure below. While not all companies generated such high margins, the Top 3’s EBITDA figures were heavily weighted in the calculation due to their 91% revenue market share in the mobile sector.
Investments in infrastructure are necessary for mobile providers to expand their network coverage, offer higher broadband speeds and create network efficiencies. Total wireless capital expenditures can be found in the Telecommunications Overview section or can be accessed on open data. The chart below displays the average monthly capital investments associated with each mobile subscriber for each year from 2014 to 2018.
In 2018, Canadians consumed more mobile data, evidenced by the averages for data use per subscriber, shown in Figure 10.15. The average monthly data usage for all subscribers and subscribers with a data plan was 2,128 MB per month and 2,525 MB per month, respectively.
The average churn rate is a measure of subscriber turnover. A high churn rate suggests that customers are leaving their existing mobile providers for a number of reasons, including dissatisfaction with the service, pricing issues or a desire to take advantage of competitive offers. Conversely, low churn rates suggest that Canadians are not switching providers, which could indicate either that customers see value in remaining with their current provider or that there is a lack of incentives motivating subscribers to change from one provider to another.
SMS/MMS allows for the transmission of text, pictures, videos, and other media between mobile subscribers. Each year from 2014 to 2018, the average number of messages sent and received was consistently above 500 million messages per day (an average of 514 million per day). Additional details can be found on open data.
Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices that provide access to the Internet are continually increasing demand for wireless capacity. The following tables and charts illustrate how Canadians are adapting to a digital communication system.
Figure 10.18 shows the percentages of Canadians, 18 years of age and older, who owned regular cell phones, smartphones, and tablets, from 2014 to 2018. In this figure, smartphones are a subset of cell phones. The use of smartphones and tablets increases the volume of network data traffic.
The table below shows the percentage of Francophones and Anglophones in Canada who owned cell phones, smartphones and tablets from 2014 to 2018. In this table, smartphones are a subset of cell phones. Over this period, Francophones consistently owned these devices at a lower rate than Anglophones; however, the gap narrowed significantly in 2018.
As seen in Figure 10.19 below, Canadians who reside in the western provinces were generally more likely to adopt smartphones than Canadians who reside in the eastern provinces, although adoption rates were high throughout Canada.
Figure 10.20 shows some of the common activities that Francophones and Anglophones carried out using their smartphones. On average, Francophones were marginally less inclined than Anglophones to use smartphones for these activities.
Figure 10.21 shows some of the common activities that Francophones and Anglophones carried out in 2018 using their tablets. In contrast to smartphone use, Francophones are more inclined than Anglophones to use tablet technologies in all activity categories except that of making an online purchase, which is an activity they are equally inclined to perform on a tablet.
This section presents some key metrics that are closely monitored and analyzed by the industry to assess competitiveness in the marketplace. These metrics showcase the financial health and performance of the two group of providers at the national level, since showing regional and provincial data would present confidentiality and disclosure concerns.
|Top 3||Other providers||All providers|
|Average revenue per user||$70.25||$62.23||$69.61|
|Average blended churn rates||1.34%||1.52%||1.44%|
|Average capital expenditure per user (ACEPU)||$6.30||$11.18||$6.80|
|Average data usage||2.0 GB||2.6 GB||2.1 GB|
|Average revenue per 1 GB of data||$13.59||$5.61||$12.42|
The Top 3 had approximately 90.7% of revenue market share and 89.2% subscriber market share in 2018. As seen in Figure 10.22, the Top 3 consistently reported higher ARPUs than their competitors, although their flanker brands had very similar ARPUs to those reported by the competitors.
As seen in Figure 10.23 below, the other service providers had a much higher ACEPU than that of the Top 3 in 2018.
Capital intensity measures the ratio of capital investments made to revenues generated in a given year. Figure 10.24 below reveals that the Top 3 reinvested at a lower rate than the other providers by more than 2.1 times in 2018.
The other providers’ subscribers used, on average, more data than those of the Top 3’s subscribers. A subscriber base that consumes more data while generating less ARPU would likely have a direct impact on capital intensity and profitability.
iv. Coverage/availability details
For over a decade, more than 99% of Canadians have had access to mobile services, provided using various network technologies. However, the coverage availability by technologies such as HSPA+, LTE and LTE-A, varied significantly among the provinces and the North. For example, more than 98% of Albertans but only 70% of Saskatchewanians had access to LTE-A in 2018. Access to mobile services reflects, among other things, the investments made by the industry to provide coverage across the country, to foster innovation and to create a more competitive marketplace.
The availability of technologies such as LTE and LTE-A generally results in faster download and upload speeds and lower latency. This enhances the consumer experience, especially for consumers using data-intensive applications.
As for networks, in 2018, on average, Canadians in most provinces had access to two or three facilities-based networks; however, those in the North generally had access to only one network. In 2018, 96% of Prince Edward Islanders had a choice of at least three facilities-based networksFootnote 13, while only 3% of Saskatchewanians had access to the same number of facilities-based networks. Coverage availability by the number of facilities-based networks, by province, can be found on open data.
The penetration rate represents the number of subscribers as a percentage of the population. This metric reflects, among other things, the saturation and maturity of the marketplace, service providers’ ability to successfully market and sell their services, a population’s willingness to adopt mobile communications and the potential for future growth. Penetration rates by province and territory can be found in open data.
WiFi hotspots are an important service that telecommunications service providers (TSPs) use to differentiate their services from each other and to extend their brands. Hotspots are locations where Internet access is offered to the public via 802.11 WiFi technology. In 2018, there were 41,035 hotspots available throughout the country and only 2.0% (934) of them required paid access.
Over 99% of Canadians have access to LTE networks, but this availability varies by location. Canadians living in urban centres and in the provinces have greater access to these networks than those living in rural communities and or the territories, as is evident in Figure 10.27 and Figure 10.28, below.
In 2013, LTE was available to over 92% of Canadians living in urban centres compared to only 35.4% in rural communities; it took over five years for LTE to reach nearly the same access availability in both urban centres and rural communities. As carriers continue to invest in their networks, more people will have access to advanced mobile networks regardless where one lives.
For the following maps, the data is available for export through the Cartovista Data panel using the Export button; the Data panel is available on the bottom left-hand side of the map. Detailed instructions on how to use Cartovista maps are available on the Cartovista website.
|Mobile population coverage||LTE population coverage||Penetration rate|
|2014 – Top 3||98.5%||91.8%||71.9%|
|2014 – Other providers||72.0%||30.7%||8.2%|
|2018 – Top 3||98.9%||98.6%||79.6%|
|2018 – Other providers||75.7%||75.0%||9.6%|
Generally, the Top 3 and the other providers try to extend their service coverage across Canada in a cost-efficient manner by entering into sharing arrangements for support structures, antenna sites and networks as well as by establishing roaming arrangements. Roaming arrangements enable subscribers to have access to service outside their mobile service provider’s home network, while network sharing arrangements also share the cost of building an extensive nationwide network. If a subscriber is outside its service provider’s network and is connected to another WSPs’ network, then the subscriber is said to be “roaming”. Figure 10.30 below show the percentage of voice minutes and data traffic (excluding SMS and MMS traffic), derived from roaming in Canada, in the United States and internationally.
Canada’s wireless service market is dominated by the Top 3. They provide significantly more coverage and achieve higher subscriber penetration rates than the other providers in almost every province and territory, Saskatchewan being a notable exception. In 2018, the Top 3 and other providers offered coverage to 98.9% and 75.7% of the population respectively. There was also a similar disparity between the two groups with respect to Canada-wide LTE coverage. For LTE, the Top 3 and other providers offered coverage to 98.6% and 75.0% of the population respectively.
The disparity between the Top 3 and other providers was also evident in penetration rates. From 2014 to 2018, the Top 3’s subscriber base grew from 71.9% of the population to 79.6%, while the other service providers’ base increased at slightly a faster pace, from 8.2% of the population to 9.6% over the same five-year period.
Media Technology Monitor (MTM)
MTM measures Canadians’ media technology adoption and use at two points in time to monitor changes in media penetration and use over the year. Telephone interviews are conducted with a regionally representative sample of Canadians who have a landline telephone service and those who rely solely on cell phone service. The fall survey includes 8,000 Canadian adults (4,000 Anglophones and 4,000 Francophones). Of those 8,000 respondents, 2,976 have also completed an online survey introduced in the fall. An independent sample of 4,000 Canadians (2,000 Anglophones and 2,000 Francophones) is surveyed in the spring.
The CMR uses data collected from the fall survey unless stated otherwise.
Top 3 mobile service providers
Throughout the mobile section, the Top 3 refers to Bell (Bell Group), Telus and Rogers; this includes the statistics of its flanker brands even where the Top 3 and its flanker brands are reported side by side for comparison.
Between 2013 and 2017, locations were considered to be serviced if the representative point for their dissemination block fell within an area of mobile service coverage.
For 2018, ISED pseudo-households were used along with 2016 census demography. Pseudo-households are points representing the population in an area. These points are placed along roadways within each area, and the population of the area, as determined by Statistics Canada, is distributed among these points. Additional data regarding addresses and the position of dwellings is used to guide this distribution. The use of pseudo-households aims to improve the accuracy of the availability indicators rather than making an assumption that the population within an area is located at the centre of that area.
Urban centres and rural communities
Urban centres, also known as small/medium/large population centres, are defined as follows: small centres have populations between 1,000 and 29,999, medium centres have populations between 30,000 and 99,999, and large centres have populations greater than 100,000. For the purposes of this report, data for urban centres reports the average of small/medium/large centres.
Rural communities are defined as areas with a population of less than 1,000 or a density of 400 or fewer people per square kilometre.
Distribution of data subscribers by size of data plans
The size of data plans were reported in absolute terms and therefore, specific plan sizes that were not defined and fell between two data plan sizes were reported at the discretion of the reporting carriers. For data plans less than 1 GB, this would include subscribers with data up to 0.999 GB (1,023 MB), but less than 1 GB (1,024 MB); subscribers with 1 GB – 2 GB of data, this would include subscribers with at least 1 GB up to 2 GB; 3 GB – 4 GB would include subscribers with at least 3 GB up to 4 GB; 5 GB or more would include subscribers with at least 5 GB.
Average revenue per user (ARPU) is a measure of revenue generated per subscriber. This is calculated by dividing the whole-year total revenue by the average number of subscribers from the current and previous year. The number of subscribers is taken from year end data.
Churn rates are a measure of subscriber turnover represented as an average monthly blended rate of postpaid and prepaid subscribers.
Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), or Operating Margin is a metric used to measure financial performance. It is expressed as a percentage of total revenues.
HSPA/HSPA+/LTE/LTE-A: High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA) and Long-Term Evolution (LTE) are the protocols or standards used for communications between a mobile phone and cell towers in mobile networks. HSPA is also referred to as 3G (third generation) cellular while LTE is referred to a 4G (fourth generation) cellular. HSPA+, or evolved High-Speed Packet Access, is a form of HSPA that uses technical measures to provide faster transmission speeds. LTE is the current standard that is now widely deployed in most mobile networks, while LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) is an enhancement of the LTE standard.
Major transportation roads were defined by the Commission in Telecom Regulatory Policy 2018-377 as roads that correspond to Statistics Canada’s street rank codes 1 through 3.
Other service providers include SaskTel, other small incumbent TSPs (telecommunications service providers), certain resellers, and the remaining new entrants (Freedom Mobile, Videotron and Bragg Communications [Eastlink]).
The top three mobile service providers (Top 3), in terms of revenues and subscribers, consists of the Bell Group, Rogers and TELUS. The Bell Group includes Bell Canada, Bell Mobility, Bell MTS, KMTS, Latitude Wireless, NorthernTel Limited Partnership, Northwestel Mobility and Télébec, Limited Partnership. In 2017, MTS Inc.’s figures were included with those of the Bell Group. In 2015, Data & Audio Visual Enterprises Wireless Inc.’s (i.e. Mobilicity) figures were included with those of Rogers. From 2013 on, Public Mobile’s figures were included with those of TELUS. Throughout this section, the Top 3’s flanker brands are a subset of the Top 3.
Top 3’s flanker brands include brands such as Fido, Koodo and Virgin Mobile.
Contents of the Report
- Communications Services in Canadian Households: Subscriptions and Expenditures 2013-2017
- 2018 Communications Services Pricing in Canada
- Communications Industry Overview: Telecommunications and Broadcasting
- Broadcasting Overview
- Radio Sector
- Television Sector
- Broadcasting Distribution Sector
- Telecommunications Overview
- Retail Fixed Internet Sector and Broadband Availability
- Retail Mobile Sector
Go directly to:
|Report Section||Open Data|
|Communications Services in Canadian Households: Subscriptions and Expenditures 2013-2017||Households data|
|2018 Communications Services Pricing in Canada||Pricing data|
|Communications Overview||Communications Overview data|
|Broadcasting Overview||Broadcasting Overview data|
|Radio Sector||Radio data|
|Television Sector||Television data|
|Broadcasting Distribution Sector||BDU data|
|Telecommunications Overview||Telecommunications Overview data|
|Retail Fixed Internet Sector and Broadband Availability||Internet data|
|Retail Mobile Sector||Mobile data|
- Date modified: