Surprises from cellphone usage research

July 30th, 2012, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

by Hans van de Groenendaal

The Mobility 2012 research study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the backing of First National Bank, revealed some interesting trends both in terms of cellphone banking and general use of cellphones.

The Mobility 2012 project comprises two reports, The Mobile Consumer in SA 2012, detailing cellphone usage and banking trends, and The Mobile Internet in SA 2012, exploring online and data trends. It is based on face-to-face interviews with a nationally representative sample of South African adult cellphone users living in cities and towns. The surveys were conducted in June 2012.

One on the most surprising findings is that while most cellphone banking is still conducted via text messages, more than a third of customers of these services are now also using phone browsers for their banking.

Only 5% of cellphone bankers exclusively use phone browsers for the purpose, but a further 36% use the browsers as well as text-based services like unstructured supplementary service data and SMS.

According to the study, the single most popular transactional service in cellphone banking remains airtime purchases, with 74% of customers using it for this purpose, and only 15% paying accounts via their phones. Phone-based purchases via the phone of physical products that are then delivered to the buyer are made by only 4% of urban cellphone users, but by no rural users whatsoever.

Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx, believes that big opportunities still lie dormant in mobile commerce. “But virtual business will always need infrastructure, and that remains the barrier to cellphone purchases of physical product.”

More than half of cellphone banking customers also transfer airtime, with rural users (69%) far more likely to do so than urban users (51%). The same gap exists in mobile purchases of pre-paid electricity, with 33% of rural cellphone banking users and only 21% of urban users doing so via their phones. The pattern is repeated in sending money to others via cellphone banking:
44% rural, 34% urban.

“The popularity of money and airtime transfers via cellphone banking is one of the clues to why stand-alone mobile money transfer services have not taken off in South Africa,” says Goldstuck. “There simply is no desperate need for them, as there is in other African countries.”

While 80% of urban users have pre-paid accounts, the proportion of rural pre-paid users is 94%. The average phone spend of contract users is R387 per month, more than double that of rural users, who spend on average R165 a month.

Less voice – more data!

Internet demand is slicing into voice revenues. The study shows that cellphone spend on data has increased by half in the past 18 months – from 8% of budget at the end of 2010 to 12% in mid-2012. On the other hand, spending on voice has dropped from 77% to 73% in the same period. SMS spend has remained steady at 12%, and full music tracks feature for the first time – taking up 1% of the average spend on a cellphone.

“Spend on data is a barometer for the rapid increase both in the number of internet users in South Africa and in the intensity with which experienced users engage with the internet,” says Goldstuck. The biggest increases in specific uses of data on the phone were seen in instant messaging services, with more than a fivefold increase in the proportion of BBM users in the past 18 months – from 3% to 17% of adult cellphone users living in cities and towns.

Browsing on the phone also increased substantially, from 33% to 41% of users, app downloads rose from 13% of users to 24%, while Facebook usage rose by more than half, from 22% to 38%. Proportionally, the biggest growth after BBM was seen in the Twitter user base, which rose from 6% to 12% of adult cellphone owners. “This is only the beginning: the social networking genie is out of the bottle,” says Goldstuck, “Businesses have to recognise the trend, and begin developing strategies to address it.”

Camera, radio and games

With the increasing number of features available on a cellphone, the study also looked at their usage. While the camera feature is the most used by cellphone users in urban areas, their rural counterparts make more use of the FM radio feature available on most entry level handsets. Another popular feature is games on the phone. Rural users scored 81% and urban users 86%. The least used features are Skype and mobile TV.

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