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Understanding mobile experience explains why users in Colombia switch mobile operators

In this new analysis, Opensignal has found that Colombian smartphone users that switched their mobile operator saw a significantly worse mobile experience than the average for their original operator before they switched. These Leavers spent more time without a signal and less time connected to 4G. Also, we found that while Leavers sometimes improved their experience after switching to a new operator, it depended on which operator they joined.

Opensignal has now analyzed the mobile experience of smartphone users that switched their mobile operators in Colombia. These users are often called “churners” but we call them Leavers in this insight. We looked at three main Colombian operators — Claro, Movistar and Tigo — along with the new player WOM, which entered the market after its launch in April 2021 and is in the process of merging with its sister company, Avantel. Previously, we looked at this topic in Brazil where the poor quality of network experience was an important factor to understand why users change their mobile service providers. 

Leavers struggled with the quality of their mobile experience before switching

Smartphone users that moved away from Movistar, Tigo and WOM networks spent significantly more time with no signal than the average reported for all our users on those networks. The difference in how much Leavers’ experience was worse than the average ranged from Movistar Leavers spending 1.4 times more time with no signal to 2.2 times more for Tigo Leavers. Those users switching from WOM experienced 1.8 times more with no signal compared to the average of all WOM users. However, Claro Leavers didn’t see a statistically significant difference in the time they spent without a mobile signal suggesting that other factors and/or measures of the mobile experience were likely more important in explaining churn on Claro.

However, Leavers on all four networks spent less time connected to 4G — 4G Availability — than the average of all users on their original operator. Those who switched from Movistar and WOM experienced a difference in 4G Availability of at least six percentage points (6 and 6.5, respectively), compared to the average experience for all users. For Tigo and Claro, these disparities were slightly smaller. Tigo’s Leavers saw a difference of 4.7 percentage points, while Claro Leavers’ 4G Availability was 3.2 percentage points below their average.

Download speed seems to be less important in explaining why Leavers switched. Movistar, WOM and Tigo Leavers didn’t have any significant difference in their average download speeds compared to the average of all users on their original operator. Interestingly, Claro Leavers even saw average download speeds faster than their network average, by nearly 2 Mbps. 

Switching networks gave some Leavers a better experience, but not always

Opensignal compared Leavers’ experience in the last 30 days on their original mobile operator’s network against their experience during the first 30 days after the switch to their new operator.

After the change, only WOM Leavers saw a significant improvement in the percentage of time they had with no signal by 3.6 percentage points. Our users on other Colombian networks, who switched failed to see a statistically significant difference in the time they were able to see a mobile signal. 

However, Opensignal observed more significant changes in Leavers’ 4G Availability after switching operators. Both WOM and Claro Leavers saw substantial rises in their time spent connected to 4G within the first 30 days on their new operator — by 13 and 6.7 percentage points respectively. While Movistar Leavers didn’t see a statistically significant change in 4G Availability, those who moved away from Tigo actually experienced a large decline in 4G Availability of 9.5 percentage points.

After changing mobile networks, Movistar and WOM Leavers experienced significant surges in download speeds on their new operators by 42.9% and 48.7%, respectively. Claro churners saw no statistically significant difference after the switch. However, similarly to 4G Availability, Tigo Leavers were the only ones to have experienced a substantial speed drop on their new operator — this time by 33.1%, compared to their previous operator. 

Notably, Tigo won the Opensignal 4G Availability and Download Speed Experience awards outright in our latest Colombia Mobile Network Experience report, with impressive leads of 10.3 percentage points and 6.8 Mbps over second-placed Claro, respectively. This explains why Tigo churners would be more likely to see declines in these metrics after moving to their new networks/. It also explains why, for example, Movistar Leavers saw a substantial increase in download speeds or Claro Leavers’  4G Availability improved so dramatically. 

Aggressive pricing strategies create a challenge for Colombian operators to retain their customer base

The Colombian mobile market saw big changes earlier this year, as WOM launched in April 2021, luring in customers from other networks with attractive switching deals to port their numbers. The operator deployed its 4G network infrastructure in 120 municipalities but offered connectivity in 765 municipalities thanks to domestic roaming agreements with other Colombian mobile networks. WOM planned to cover around 80% of the Colombian population by the end of 2021 and aims for nationwide coverage within three years, with 8,000 antennas, with a focus on underserved rural areas.

By August 2021, WOM claimed to have signed one million subscribers and was offering appealing pricing plans, which undercut its competitors’ prices by 40% — and led to average prices in the prepaid segment declining by 17% and in the postpaid segment — by 27%. It is also in the process of merging by absorption with its sister company Avantel, which will give WOM full access to Avantel’s infrastructure, customer base and distribution channels.

WOM’s aggressive launch and the expected 3.5 GHz 5G spectrum auction are likely to further disrupt the mobile market in Colombia. While in our analysis WOM Leavers still saw significant improvements in their quality of mobile services after moving to other networks, the operator aims to improve its 4G coverage and not rely on domestic roaming agreements with its competitors.

To retain their customers and attract new ones, Colombian operators will have to compete both with attractive and affordable mobile plans — but also with the high quality of mobile services provided to their subscribers, which could be achieved through future 5G roll-outs. From Opensignal’s analysis, it’s clear that mobile network experience plays a key role in customers' decision to leave their mobile service provider, and that operators must focus on offering a high-quality mobile experience to retain their customers. In addition, there are opportunities to highlight strong mobile experience in acquisition marketing to target rival operator customers that have a poor experience.