SA mobile users shift from voice to data

4 December 2013

South African mobile phone networks are seeing call revenues declining for the first time in their histories as the younger generation leads the consumer charge into a “new data economy”, according to a new study from research company World Wide Worx.

World Wide Worx’s “Mobility 2014” study, released last week, reveals that the 19-24 age group, representing students and entrants into the workforce, is abandoning calls faster than any other segment.

“Only 56% of this group’s cellphone budget is now spent on calls, down from 66% in mid-2012,” the company said in a statement. “Data spend, on the other hand, [on text messaging and internet surfing and downloading] has increased from 17% to 24%.”

The study is based on face-to-face at-home interviews conducted in late 2013 with 1 200 South Africans, aged 16 and up, in urban and rural areas across the country.

It found a dramatic shift in the trend for the overall market, with call spend dropping from 73% of cellphone budget to 65%, while data spend increased from 12% to 16%. At the beginning of 2010, calls stood at 77% and data at 8%.

Spending on text messaging remained steady at 13%, while spending on downloading music tracks, which featured for the first time in 2012, doubled from 1% to 2% of the average mobile phone budget.

“Older users continue to spend far more overall, but the powerful shift in spend from voice to data will work its way up the age segments in the coming years,” World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck said in a statement. “Already, we are seeing a flattening out of the curve of data use from the 25-34 through to the 46-55 age groups. Only above that age does data spend drop off – but not very significantly.”

Mobile banking

The survey also reveals substantial shifts in the South African mobile banking environment, with the biggest proportional shift coming in the use of banking apps. From only 1% of all banking customers using banking apps in mid-2012, the figure shot up to 9% in late 2013. Cellphone banking also surged, from 28% in mid-2012 to 37% in late 2013.

“One in 10 banking customers are now using apps, and that number is still rising fast, which vindicates our strategy of expanding our offerings as the market’s use of these tools evolves,” said Dione Sankar, head of cellphone banking at FNB. “At the same time, looking after the non-smartphone customer through basic cellphone banking has also paid off. We have never experienced such dramatic growth across all mobile channels.”

Mobile phone brands

According to the survey, Nokia remains the most popular phone brand in South Africa, although its market share has dropped significantly, from 50% to 44%. Blackberry has increased its market share locally from 18% to 23%, despite almost vanishing as a force from Western markets, thanks to its continued aspirational appeal in younger markets.

Samsung, meanwhile, has increased its share marginally, from 18% to 19%. “In mid-2012, consumers had indicated they would move away from the brand, with a third of its users saying they would opt for other phones,” World Wide Worx said. “However, the appeal of its Galaxy range of Android devices across all smartphone price segments has resulted in a resurgence for Samsung.”

The most popular feature used on phones remains the camera, at 73% of mobile users, with FM radio far behind at 51%, and the music player on the phone catching up to FM at 49%.

Tablet usage

Tablet usage was measured for the first time in World Wide Worx’s latest study, revealing that approximately 5% of South Africa’s adult cellphone users also have a tablet. The vast majority use it for internet access (77%) and e-mail (57%), with social media and downloading apps in joint third place (43%).

Samsung dominates tablet usage by adults, with 52% market share, while Apple iPads hold 23% of the adult market.

“Both tablet penetration and market share is set to shift in the coming year,” World Wide Worx said, noting that “a quarter of respondents said they expected to buy a tablet, with 44% of these saying they will buy a Samsung device, and 32% opting for Apple”.

SAinfo reporter and World Wide Worx