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It’s clear that penetration of several major telecoms platforms in Italy and Spain doesn’t match the levels seen further north in Europe—in France, Germany, the Nordics or the UK, for example. Many of these variations can be traced to lower government investment in telecoms infrastructure in southern Europe and—especially in the wake of the global recession beginning in 2008—a sharper decline in business and consumer spending power in those same countries.
But what of the differences between Italy and Spain? Recent figures from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reveal some intriguing patterns. The ITU bases its numbers on responses to a questionnaire sent annually to telecoms authorities and operating companies, as well as information from telecoms ministries, regulators, and other national and international organizations.
Clearly the interplay of fixed-line, mobile and digital communications is rather different in the two countries. In 2014, Spain recorded higher fixed-line telephone subscription penetration than Italy, and apparently higher levels of fixed broadband too. For its part, Italy posted nearly double the number of mobile phone connections (94.2 million, compared with 50.8 million in Spain), and far higher mobile connection penetration (154.2% vs. 107.8% in Spain).
Judging by those results, Italy was a more advanced environment for mobile telephony last year, but Spain may have had the edge in fixed-line communications. Could that explain the sizable gap in internet penetration? According to Eurostat figures cited by the ITU, 62.0% of consumers in Italy ages 16 to 74 had been online in the three months prior to polling in 2014, compared with 76.2% in Spain. (eMarketer—which estimates internet usage across all age groups—calculated that 58.0% of Italy’s residents accessed the internet at least monthly via any device in 2014, compared with 66.2% in Spain.)
There may be more to the mobile dimension, though. After all, fixed-line networks are no longer a prerequisite for internet access; mobile platforms and web use now go hand in hand, thanks to the advent of smartphones. If advanced handsets are more widespread in Spain, that may also push up the national rate of internet use.
eMarketer’s assessment of smartphone uptake in the two markets supports this conclusion. In Spain, an estimated 56.3% of mobile phone users owned at least one smartphone last year and used it at least once per month; in Italy, the percentage was 48.9%.
Not only that: The European Commission reported that web users in Spain were more likely than those in Italy to go online with a smartphone. When TNS Opinion & Social polled internet users ages 15 and older in October last year, 68% in Italy said they used a smartphone to access the web; in Spain, the percentage was 85%—higher than in any other regional market.
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