As the coronavirus epidemic has changed, so has the Hungarian mobile market

Published: 13 January 2022

The COVID-19 epidemic and ways to combat its spread, such as curfews, distance learning or working from home, as well as relaxations due to the increase in the vaccination coverage rate, have had a significant impact on communications consumption patterns, including the mobile phone and mobile internet service market, according to the latest mobile market report of the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH), covering the period from Q3 2017 to Q2 2021.

Compared to mid-2020, internet traffic grew by almost a quarter – 23.8% – by mid-2021 (from 155 million to 192 million Gbyte). In the same period, call traffic increased by 4.3%, from 6.9 billion to 7.2 billion minutes. There is a certain seasonality in the use of roaming services, with a spike in usage in the summer. The steadily increasing trend in roaming traffic, besides seasonality, has been spectacularly interrupted in 2020, especially from the second quarter onwards. In the first quarter of 2021, only 430,000 SIM cards were used to make calls abroad, just over a third of the 1.2 million used a year earlier. The first half of 2021 saw another increase, with 687,000 calls made from cards in the second quarter of 2021, instead of 525,000 in the same period last year. Although the number of SIM cards has decreased, the number of calls made from devices has increased: while in the first quarter of 2020, domestic subscribers made an average of nearly 51 minutes of calls from SIM cards abroad, in the first quarter of 2021 this was 127 minutes.

The trend of mobile internet usage abroad has also broken the upward trend that prevailed until the end of 2019. In both the fourth quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, just under half a million SIM cards were used to surf the web outside the country, less than 40 per cent of the 1.4 million used a year earlier. As in the case of telephony, those who went online from abroad did so much more than before.

The two segments of the mobile internet service market – large screen and smartphone – differ significantly in both size and usage characteristics. The large-screen segment includes around half a million SIM cards (typically used by internet users on laptops, tablets and desktops), and the number of SIM cards has remained stable over the period. In contrast, the number of cards in the smartphone segment increased by more than 1.6 million cards over the 4-year period under review, reaching 7 million cards. Today, nearly 94% of all mobile internet cards belong to the smartphone segment. The share of smartphone SIM cards is also significant for the overall market, accounting for 67.6% of all SIM cards in circulation in mid-2021. The average monthly internet traffic per user in the two segments differs significantly: at the end of the period, the average monthly traffic per SIM card in the large screen segment was 28.6 GBytes, while the average monthly traffic per SIM card in the smartphone segment was 7.2 GBytes. Because of the distribution gap, the large screen segment still accounted for 20.7% of total sales in mid-2021.

The use of the 4G network for both internet and voice traffic continues to grow: 96.1% of the former and 61.6% of the latter took place on this network. In 2022, this segment is expected to change significantly, as the authority will start the roll-out of 3G technology this year, including a funding programme for mobile device replacement from February.

The full study, including information on the M2M service, is now available on the authority’s website.