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Mobile experience is a driver for mobile churn in Singapore

Opensignal has analyzed mobile subscriber churn in Singapore and found that our users who changed their mobile operator on average had a worse mobile experience before they switched compared to the typical experience on their original network. Also, our data shows that Singapore’s fourth mobile operator — TPG — as well as the numerous MVNOs which have launched operations in recent years, have been chipping away at M1, Singtel and Starhub’s subscriber bases.

Churn is important for Singapore’s mobile operators because the market is no longer growing and so to acquire new customers they must persuade users to leave their existing operator. In fact, the total number of mobile subscriptions in Singapore had been steady for years until December 2018, when TPG launched its free-trial plan and drove a temporary surge in the number of mobile connections as many users started using a free TPG SIM in addition to their existing one. However, that surge was limited in time as the telecom authority — IMDA — reported that Singapore, starting in April 2020, has seen a drastic drop in the number of total mobile subscriptions, likely due to many TPG users ditching their free TPG SIMs once the operator launched its commercial plans on March 31, 2020. IMDA has also since reported a significant increase in the total number of ported subscriptions, which refers to the number of subscribers who retained their mobile numbers when they switched to a new mobile operator. This confirms that churn is a lively dynamic and is gaining importance in Singapore’s mobile market.

Opensignal analyzed our smartphone users in Singapore who changed their mobile network service provider (‘Leavers’) in the two years starting in January 2019 and ending in December 2020. We calculated the proportion of Leavers that each mobile operator lost and gained out of the total number of Leavers. Then, for each mobile operator, we calculated the difference between those two percentages, to find the net flow of Leavers.

Our data shows that M1, Singtel and StarHub have all been losing smartphone users to TPG and the numerous MVNOs in the last two years. Of the three incumbent mobile operators it was Singtel that bore the brunt of the losses according to our data, while M1 and StarHub’s net flow of Leavers apparently stabilized after going into the negative during the first part of 2019. Interestingly, our data shows that TPG had been steadily gaining Leavers since its initial free-trial launch until April 2020, when we observed that trend flattening out and TPG instead started losing slightly more of our users to churn than it was receiving. This trend change coincided with TPG’s commercial launch, which meant consumers could no longer sign-up for TPG’s free-trial plan. Moreover, in recent months we observed an increasing number of users who moved towards virtual network operators offering cheap SIM-only mobile plans including Circles.Life, redOne, VIVIFI and other MVNOs, suggesting that the current economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are raising mobile subscribers’ price awareness.

Opensignal then analyzed the mobile experience of our Leavers during the year 2020. We looked at those users’ mobile experience during the 30 days before they made the change, and compared that against the average experience on their network during the full period.

We found that Leavers on average had a worse mobile experience before they switched than the typical experience observed by our users on their original network provider. Leavers across all four national MNOs on average spent between 47% and 133% more time without a mobile signal compared to the average scores on their networks; they also spent less time connected to either a 3G or 4G mobile connection — 3G/4G Availability — and they experienced lower 4G Availability. Our data therefore suggests that users experiencing mobile network pain points are more likely to change their mobile service provider.


Operators should address users with weak mobile network experience to reduce churn

TPG’s entrance in Singapore’s mobile market with its initial free-trial plan as well as the launch of numerous MVNOs offering cheap SIM-only plans has increased the number of attractive low-cost mobile offers available to Singaporean customers. But Opensignal’s analysis of Singapore’s smartphone users shows that price alone does not explain churn — even in a market like Singapore with many low-cost brands — and that mobile network experience is an extremely important driver of churn.