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DNA Finland: Supporting Europe’s Highest Data Users with 5G Upgrades in High-Value Areas

by Philip Kendall | May 21, 2021

DNA Finland’s high mobile data use and sustained mobile revenue growth (in contrast to declines across Europe) is built on a strong focus on network quality. As its 5G business begins to scale, its network performance leadership has been delivered through a high ratio of massive MIMO sites in its network.

At 38.8 GBytes per month in Q4 2020, Finland’s DNA has among the highest mobile data use per subscription in the world and the highest seen in Europe. Finland is a leading market for mobile data use, with similarly high levels also seen at Telia and Elisa, though DNA does come out on top. Based on data from Finland’s regulator, Traficom, mobile data use in H2 2020 averaged 32.0 GB per subscription, or 34.3 GB per active data subscription. This consists of 17.1 GB for phones and 80.5 GB for data-only connections, with modems and FWA devices a strong feature of the Finnish market. These average usage levels are 2x those seen in H2 2017.

Based on extensive use of speed-based unlimited data plans, perhaps the most impressive feature of the Finnish market has been the ability to deliver high data usage levels and strong growth while also improving mobile revenue. Between Q4 2017 and Q4 2020, mobile ARPU fell at a CAGR or 4.8% across Western Europe, though increased at a CAGR of 1.8% in Finland and 3.4% at DNA. Mobile service revenue over this period fell by a total of 11.6% in Western Europe, rising 5.0% in Finland and almost 16% at DNA. The ability of DNA and its competitors to successfully lift subscribers up the price tiers has been the key factor here, with 58% of data plans now at speeds of 100 Mbps or higher.

Finland Mobile Data Subscriptions by Speed Tier 2017-20

DNA’s success in outperforming Europe’s strongest mobile data market is built on a number of dimensions. As noted, its speed-based pricing strategy is by no means unique to the market, so there are no clear reasons for success there. It does benefit from a young customer base and this is a strong contributing factor in average usage levels, as seen in the chart below.

DNA Finland Mobile Data Use by Age

The second factor has been a strong focus on network quality and a dedication to delivering the network capacity to support these profiles of use. Central to this over the last year has been the expansion of its 5G network. In December 2020, almost 50% of phones sold by DNA were 5G, while in Q1 2021 two thirds of its 15 most popular phone models were 5G. In addition to 5G phone growth, in its Q1 results it noted that “installations of DNA’s 5G Fixed Wireless Access service have also continued at a good pace, and an increasing number of households is interested in the service.”

According to the latest release from DNA, its 3.5 GHz 5G network covers 40% of the Finnish population, or 2.2 million people, across a total of 98 towns and cities. Upgrades from 4G are prioritized on an as needs basis, adding 5G capacity where the need is greatest. As Jarkko Laari, Director, Radio Networks at DNA, notes in this release “building the 5G network actually means upgrading all parts of the cellular network. It has the added benefit of clearly improving transfer rates and user experience of 4G customers, too,” so a full site upgrade rather than simply adding 5G base stations at existing sites.

In network tests conducted by Omnitele in November and December 2020 (commissioned by DNA), DNA’s average 5G download speed was 313 Mbps, compared to Elisa at 267 Mbps and Telia at 215 Mbps. 97-98% of the time connections were 5 Mbps ‘HD quality’ across all three networks, while DNA’s connections were 25 Mbps ‘UHD quality’ 89% of the time, compared to 91% at Elisa and 86% at Telia. Ookla’s speed test results for Finland for Q1 2021 also rank DNA the best for 5G download speeds, averaging 337 Mbps versus 291 Mbps at Telia and 212 Mbps at Elisa.

This strong network experience, both in terms of coverage and speeds, has been supported by a high ratio of Massive MIMO antennae in DNA’s 5G network, with around 60% of its 5G sites utilizing m-MIMO. DNA’s 32T32R m-MIMO sites can deliver peak speeds of 1.6 Gbps currently. For 5G operators evaluating network deployment options, m-MIMO is a technology that has perhaps been used sparingly by many as they weigh up the costs against their initial traffic projections and capacity requirements. However, DNA has shown in Finland that extensive m-MIMO deployment can unlock the user experience gains that are key to successful 5G value creation. This points to a network approach that Strategy Analytics believes should be more widely adopted in order to deliver the differentiated 5G network experiences that will be critical to operator service revenue growth.

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