Spanish mobile phone lines in use fall for first time on record

Decrease in 2012 largely due to prepaid lines, which fell by 2.7 million

The number of cellphone lines in Spain fell for the first time on record last year when the economy slipped back into recession for the second time in three years, according to figures released Tuesday by the Commission for the Telecommunications Market (CMT). The CMT has been compiling data since 1997.

The supervisor for the sector said the number of mobile lines and USB modems declined 5.4 percent, or 2.7 million, from a year earlier to 55.742 million. The number of lines had been falling throughout the year as a result of the drop in consumer spending brought on by the economic crisis.

The decline was largely the result of pre-paid lines, which dropped from some 20 million at the end of 2011 to 17.5 million at the end of last year. The losses were suffered mainly by the main players in the market: Telefónica’s Movistar, France Telecom’s Orange and the UK’s Vodafone. Orange stopped subsidizing cellphone sales in March, with Movistar the only company to continue to do so.

Portability last year also fell by 6 percent despite changes to legislation in the second half of 2011 aimed at facilitating the transfer from one company to another while retaining the same cellphone number.

The drop in the number of prepaid clients was accompanied by an increase in the use of smartphones. Spain now has the highest rate of penetration in the use of mobile phones with internet connection in Europe.

Broadband internet connections constituted the only segment of the telecommunications market to see an increase in usage, with the number of lines rising 3.7 percent from a year earlier to 416,000. The number of fixed lines fell for the fifth year in a row.