In the telco world, there's an ongoing infatuation with "ARPU" (Average Revenue Per User, for those just joining us). It's a stat that execs obsess over. Wall Street talks about which operators have the highest or lowest ARPUs and which direction the ARPU moves every quarter or year. ARPU can be useful in some ways, but the level to which it's relied on as an indicator of how successful an operator is can be quite problematic. Take, for example, a new study that is warning that while voice ARPU is declining and data ARPU is increasing for mobile operators, the increase in data ARPU isn't closing the gap created by the losses in voice ARPU. This leads to execs thinking that they need to figure out ways to quickly increase data ARPU or slow the decline in voice ARPU -- which could be a strategic mistake. First of all, as markets get more mature, operators are increasingly looking towards the margins to pick up new customers who have never had service before. In most cases, those subscribers are going to want cheap intro plans to see why it's worthwhile. In other words, those customers drive down ARPU, but increase incremental revenue. That should be good, but is seen as bad. Meanwhile, when it comes to data ARPU, the industry still hasn't done a great job convincing many users why or how they should use mobile data offerings. Keeping the barriers low helps to get more people experimenting and seeing the benefits of mobile data usage -- even if it keeps data ARPU low. Pushing up the rates too quickly means that you cut off a large segment of the potential market -- or open them up to a competitor who isn't as infatuated with meeting certain ARPU standards.
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