Canada's wireless industry leads the world in terms of revenue, earning an average of $54.73 US per user per month. ((iStock))

Competition may be heating up in Canada's wireless sector, but profit levels at the big three providers are still the highest in the developed world, according to a report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Canadian wireless companies — led by Bell, Rogers and Telus, which control about 95 per cent of the market — had earnings (before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of 46.7 per cent in the first quarter, a margin that topped 21 developed nations tracked by the bank in its regular Global Wireless Matrix report.

The average margin in the developed world was 38.3 per cent, with U.K. firms posting the lowest result at 22.6 per cent. The Canadian result was closer to the 42.2 per cent average found among the 29 emerging economies in Europe, Asia and Latin America tracked by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Margins in that group were highest in the Philippines, at 62.9 per cent, followed by Morocco, at 58.8 per cent, and Indonesia, at 56.6 per cent.

Canadian carriers also led all 50 nations with the highest average revenue per user (ARPU) per month, at $54.73 US. The average ARPU among developed nations was $42.90. In the United States, ARPU was $49.54 while in the United Kingdom it was $31.63. Greece had the lowest APRU in the group with $19.87.


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Canada also placed last among developed nations in penetration, or the percentage of the population that subscribes to wireless services, with 69 per cent. The average among peer nations was 109 per cent, indicating many people in other countries are subscribing to more than one wireless account.

The average penetration rate in the developing world was 66 per cent. Five countries — all of them in the developing world — had lower penetration than Canada: Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan and Nigeria. Canada also had the highest landline penetration of the countries measured, at 60 per cent.

Canada saw its lead slip in low per-minute revenue. While the average revenue of 10 cents per minute ranked Canada as having the fourth-lowest rate in the developed world, the gap with other countries has been shrinking rapidly. The average revenue rate in the first quarter was 11 cents per minute. U.S. carriers had the lowest per-minute revenue among their peers, with four cents.

While Canadian carriers posted low per-minute revenue, other charges — such as caller ID, voice mail and data — contributed to their otherwise high ARPU.

Canadians also posted high minutes of use, with the average subscriber talking 368 minutes per month, the third highest behind Singapore's 374 and the U.S.'s 814. All three countries were unique in the developed world by counting incoming calls as part of their minutes. Carriers in other nations charge only for outgoing calls.

Data usage represented 23.9 per cent of the average Canadian monthly wireless bill, which was below the developed world's average of 31.8 per cent. Japanese wireless customers led the pack with 49.1 per cent of their bills going to data.

New carriers that have started up in Canada over the past seven months — including Wind Mobile, Public Mobile and Mobilicity — have promised simpler and cheaper service plans.