2008 saw turning point in local broadband internet and digital TV
These trends emerge from the latest communications market review of the Malta Communications Authority (MCA) for the period January-June 2008.
These reviews provide up-to-date information on key areas of the Maltese electronic communications industry, the postal sector, and e-commerce.
As at the end of June 2008, the total number of internet subscriptions amounted to 96,667.
This amount is split between 93,405 broadband connections and 3,262 active narrowband (dial-up) connections. Since January 2007, broadband subscriptions increased by 1,416 which is equivalent to a 1.48 per cent growth rate.
Conversely, active narrowband connections decreased considerably from 17,002 in December 2007 to 3,262 as at the end of last March. This can be attributed to the government-sponsored Blue Skies offer of cheap broadband internet access.
Thus the broadband penetration rate per population stood at 22.90 per cent while the internet penetration rate per population stood at 23.70 per cent.
Last June there were 93,405 broadband connections, of which 52 per cent were cable connections, 46 per cent ADSL connections and the remaining two per cent were WiMax connections. Cable and ADSL broadband connections registered strong growth in the first six months of this year, although cable gained more connections than ADSL.
Melita continues to retain the largest segment of broadband subscriptions with 48,437 connections. Go's retail arm holds 33,732 ADSL connections while independent ISPs share the remaining 9,198 ADSL connections.
The WiMax operator Vodafone had 2,038 connections in June, down almost 30 per cent from April, in contrast to the 54 per cent growth registered over the end of 2007.
This sharp decline may be attributed to the fact that both Melita Cable and Go announced major increases in speeds and download limits of their broadband services in June, while Vodafone retained the same packages in terms of speed. This could have led to WiMax users to switch to cable or ADSL broadband to enjoy the faster service.
However, a Vodafone spokesman had a different explanation.
"In actual fact the WiMax customer base has shown a steady growth since the launch of the service in June of last year. The decline in the figures is a result of a mix-up in the data provided about the different technologies."
Melita is quite satisfied with the results of its efforts as evidenced by the statistics.
"Only cable internet can guarantee the fastest speed to match today's lifestyles. Internet over telephone lines (ADSL) cannot, in present circumstances, satisfy the entire ever-growing demand for internet speed," commented Stephen Wright, chief operations officer at Melita in reaction to the statistics published in the MCA's review.
"Cable internet is the driving force behind growth in the local broadband market ... There is definitely more room for expansion of the local broadband market. As lifestyles continue to develop in more sophisticated and demanding ways, customers are increasingly searching for their solutions over the internet and through ICT applications."
Mr Wright praised the Blue Skies initiatives and pledged his company's support if such government offers were to be offered again.
Melita is currently awaiting the necessary permits from the Maltese and Sicilian authorities to be able to proceed with the next step in the installation of its very own submarine fibre optic data cable to cater for the growing internet demands in Malta.
The MCA's review also sheds light on trends of other communication sectors. In broadcasting, digital and analogue television subscribers reached 67,134 and 57,541 respectively. Digital TV connections increased when compared to the previous quarter, up from 62,307. On the other hand, analogue TV connections declined by 2,165, and this has made it possible for the number of digital subscribers to overtake analogue subscribers for the first time in Maltese broadcasting history. Fixed line telephone subscribers reached 235,795 by the end of Q2 2008, an increase of 1,760 over the previous quarter.
During Q2, approximately 1,428 fixed line number portings had been registered. Mobile subscribers reached 374,507 by the end of June, an increase of 2,498 over the previous quarter. Subscribers on a post-paid plan reached 44,287 (11.8 per cent of total), whereas subscribers on a prepaid plan reached 330,220 (88.2 per cent of total). In line with the increase in mobile subscriptions, the mobile penetration rate went up to 91.3 per cent for Q2. While voice and SMS traffic remained stable in Q2, MMS traffic saw a 17 per cent decline over Q1. Voice traffic by Maltese roaming subscribers increased.
The MCA also reported on consumer affairs and here again new trends emerge. The MCA received 54 complaints in relation to the electronic communications sector and post during Q2. These regarded concerns on quality of service (QoS), internet speed, customer service, offers and practices, migration from one service provider to another, contractual matters, billing, electromagnetic fields and interference. Complaints about mobile phone base stations antennae and radio frequency (RF) interference topped the list with 39 per cent. Billing complaints accounted for 18 per cent, while perceived unfair offers/practices accounted for a further 13 per cent. This confirms that gone are the days when the quality of internet access topped the list of complaints. In Q2 less than two per cent of complaints concerned internet speed.