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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mobile broadband and notebooks - a challenge to operators' auditors?

Imagine two mobile broadband offers:

£15 a month for 3GB data + free dongle
£35 a month for 3GB data + free laptop with embedded 3G module

The question is: when allocating revenues for these in the operator's financial reports, how much should get allocated to non-SMS data revenues?

And should it be different?

Does some amount of revenue get allocated to non-service equipment sales? (assuming that a margin is made on the wholesale price of the PC after the subsidy has been repaid)

Hypothetically, if I was an operator worried about the current precarious financial markets, I'd want to keep up important headline metrics like ARPU. And if was an auditor or stock analyst I'd want to look very closely at customer acquisition costs for *data* services vs. CACs for traditional phones.

My gut feel is that it's appropriate to allocate the cost of the module or dongle (both well-known, as that's what the IPR royalties relate to) as part of the "service" revenue stream. But it's not good accounting practice to add in the price of the rest of the PC. By analogy, for a fixed/cable operator offering triple-play together with a finance package on a plasma TV, you'd perhaps include the set-top box as part of the service revenue, but not the screen.

It's possible that this is a non-issue and that all operators will follow more conservative accounting approaches with mobile broadband. But I'd be surprised if at least some didn't try to fudge the figures a little.

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