4G and 5G Tariffs in Europe: key trends in Q4 2020

Point Topic has published Q4 2020 mobile broadband tariff figures

Point Topic tracks changes in the 4G LTE / LTE Advanced and 5G tariffs provided by mobile operators across Europe. This report presents the latest tariff benchmarks as of the end of December 2020.

We have 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.

Note: from Q2 2017 onwards, we only include SIM only data only tariffs and those bundled with a modem. No tariffs bundled with other devices such as tablets or smartphones are included. We made this decision to make the analysis more comparable with fixed broadband services which are not normally bundled with PCs and laptops.

Overall 4G and 5G tariff trends

4G tariffs

In Q4 2020, the average monthly charge for residential 4G data services varied from $61 (PPP) in Greece to $20 (PPP) in Spain. In 16 out of 30 countries in our sample, this measure was higher than the European average of $35 (PPP).

Figure 1. Average residential 4G data monthly tariff in PPP$, Q4 2020

In some markets, a relatively low average monthly subscription comes with high average data cap (Figure 2). For example, Finland, 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).

 

Figure 2. Average monthly data allowance in Gigabytes, residential 4G tariffs, Q4 2020

Finland stands out in terms of the highest average data allowance, as all mobile operators in this country offer unlimited 4G data. This places mobile broadband services in the country in direct competition with fixed broadband.

Figure 3. Average cost per GB of 4G data in PPP$, Q4 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 tends to be higher for mobile broadband compared to fixed. In addition, mobile broadband speeds can fluctuate significantly from one minute to the next due to various factors.

Figure 4. Average theoretical downstream speed on residential 4G services, Q4 2020

Nevertheless, Figure 4 gives an idea of the countries where operators are investing in more spectrum, bandwidth and more advanced networks, including those using the LTE-Advanced technology. Latvia is leading the pack while its operators also offer decent data allowances. Norway, Sweden, Portugal and Slovakia follow closely, though average data caps in these countries are below the European average. Denmark and Austria, among others, offer relatively low bandwidth but they are among the most generous markets in terms of data allowances[1].

5G tariffs

This quarter, we started analysing 5G tariffs separately from 4G. As there is still a limited number of 5G services in European markets, the overview below takes into account both residential and business tariffs. Due to the small sample size, our analysis of 5G tariffs is limited at this stage and only reflects some general trends.

At the end of December 2020, the average monthly subscription for data-only 5G services varied from $17 (PPP) in Poland to $93 (PPP) in Austria. In all cases except for Poland and the Netherlands, 5G tariffs were higher than 4G, as one would expect given typically higher bandwidth and lower latency on 5G. In the Netherlands, one of the 4G tariffs came with unlimited data while all 5G data only tariffs had modest data caps, which explains consumers being charged on average more for 4G than 5G services in this country. In Poland, we only recorded one 5G tariff with 30GB data limit, while 4G tariffs were much more generous in terms of data and the sample was bigger.

Figure 5. Average monthly 5G and 4G data tariffs in PPP$, Q4 2020

Figure 6. Average monthly data allowance in Gigabytes, 5G data tariffs, Q4 2020

The average data allowance on 5G tariffs varied from 6GB in the Netherlands to 750GB in Ireland. The latter, along with Finland, Austria and Switzerland were at the high end of data included in 5G subscriptions. While consumers in both Austria and Finland were offered similarly high 5G data caps, Austrians paid on average more than twice than the Finns for their 5G services, despite the higher average downstream speed available in Finland.

Figure 7. Average theoretical downstream speed on 5G data services, Q4 2020

Switzerland leads the 5G downstream bandwidth league table as one of its operators, Sunrise, has launched an up to 2Gbps 5G service. Mobile operators from most countries in our sample are offering average theoretical 5G speeds which are higher than those on 4G. The United Kingdom is an exception but this can be explained by the fact that three out of four UK mobile operators do not report their 5G speeds, thus skewing the average.

 

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, both regions came very close in terms of the average 4G data allowance in Q4 2020. At the same time, customers in Western Europe were still charged a lower average monthly subscription at $33.5 PPP. In Central & Eastern Europe, the same indicator was $36.1 PPP (Figure 8). Hence, the average cost per GB in Central & Eastern Europe was slightly higher at $0.24 PPP compared to $0.22 in Western Europe. In terms of downstream speeds on 4G connections, Central & Eastern Europeans were offered on average 223Mbps compared to 159Mbps available to Western Europeans.

 

Figure 8. Regional tariff benchmarks for residential 4G services, Q4 2020

Among the selected six mature markets, the Netherlands stood out in terms of the average data cap and Germany in terms of the lowest average monthly charge (Figure 9).

Figure 9. Tariff benchmarks for residential 4G services in six major European economies, Q4 2020


Mobile operators in the Netherlands offer consumers on average 202GB of 4G data a month while Italy follows with 158GB average allowance. The Netherlands is the second cheapest in terms of the average monthly subscription at $28.9 PPP with only Germany charging less at $27.9 PPP. Given the generous average data cap, the Netherlands has the lowest average cost per GB out of the six markets. It is $0.14 PPP, compared to $3.12 PPP in Germany (Figure 10).


Figure 10. Average data and cost of 4G services in selected countries, Q4 2020 (in $PPP)

 

To compare the prices that residential customers pay for unlimited monthly 4G data in various European markets, we selected the countries which offered such tariffs in Q4 2020 (Figure 11).

Figure 11. Entry level monthly charge for unlimited data on residential 4G tariffs, Q4 2020

 The entry level unlimited data tariffs in the countries at the high end of the spectrum (Malta) were more than 5 times higher than those at the low end (Switzerland). However, when customers paid $95.5 PPP for unlimited data in Malta, their 4G tariff included 30GB for roaming abroad, while in Switzerland they were charged $16.6 PPP for the no-frills entry level tariff. 

Country ranking

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 tariffs, Q4 2020

We have included a ‘variance’ column to indicate how different ranks for the different metrics are spread.  We see that the wide spread in Spain, Finland and Hungary, for example, is represented by high variance.  At the other end of the scale countries like Poland, Switzerland and UK rank rather consistently.

Why such marked 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.

[1] 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.

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 or have any questions please contact us on info@point-topic.com.

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. FromQ1 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/5G services with fixed broadband, for example. (Note: From Q2 2019, the minimum download speed we include is 10Mbps.)

In other words, we are trying to be very clear about what we are measuring, analysing and reporting. One could raise questions with regards to any section of this analysis.  Should we include all tariffs – those coming with smartphones, other devices and SIM only ones – in cross country comparisons?  Do we look at the range of services on offer or do we pick the single entry level tariff from the most popular provider?

As ever the answer is to pick whatever best suits your needs.  Users are urged to be careful with all outputs and read the titles and descriptions to extract the best understanding.

Get access to the full data

Access to the full version of this report, including the analysis of business tariffs, and 900 tariffs from all major mobile broadband providers from the EU-28, Norway and Switzerland are available to subscribers of Point Topic’s Mobile Broadband Tariffs service. To find out more, please telephone +44 (0)20 3301 3303 or e-mail isabelle.anderson@point-topic.com