Messaging drives SA mobile internet

27 May 2010

Use of mobile internet services has exploded in South Africa, even though less than half of urban users with internet-capable phones are using the internet, according to a comprehensive new study.

The Mobile Internet in South Africa 2010 report, conducted by local research firm World Wide Worx, shows that the usage of specific applications like Mxit and Facebook Mobile far outpaces browsing on the phone.

While 28% of the urban cellular market is using mobile instant messaging (IM), as many as 65% have the capacity on their phones, meaning that only 4.5-million out of 10.5-million potential mobile IM users actually use it. In many cases, an application has been installed on the phone, and the owner may even have registered to use the service, but is not in fact a user.

And, while 60% of users in this market have phones that can browse the internet, only 21% report that they use this form of mobile internet access.

“It is quite startling to find how many have these features on their phones but don’t use them, either out of ignorance or because of cost concerns,” World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck said in a statement this week.

Three tiers of mobile internet

For several years, the question of how many South Africans use the internet from their cellphones has been veiled in confusion, with claimed numbers ranging from half a million to 15-million.

During the past year, representatives of two of the key players in the debate, World Wide Worx and the South African Mobile Marketing Association, agreed to a formal framework within which they would report the key statistics for internet usage and access on cellphones.

The framework consist of three tiers, namely:

  • Tier 1: The WAP Internet – access to Wireless Access Protocol gateways, which includes mobile versions of brand sites, mobile versions of traditional and new media publisher sites, downloads of ringtones, games and other content, which may only involve a single link from the phone; the typical user of the WAP internet is not always aware of using the internet.
  • Tier 2: The Mobile Application Internet – usage of “stand-alone” applications on the phone that rely on data feeds, such as Mxit, Gmail, and Maps; the typical user is aware of using data, but not of fully accessing the internet.
  • Tier 3: Mobile Web Browsing – usage of a web browser to access the internet from the phone – understood by most users to represent full internet access.
  • “Defining the mobile internet is important,” said Mobile Marketing Association founding chairman Rick Joubert. “Neither one of the mobile internet usage tiers is any more important than the other, but decision-makers and marketers should understand the nature of the end user experience as clearly as possible.”

    Bridging the digital divide

    The findings suggest, on the surface, that more than half of urban mobile users – 8.5-million – are capable of accessing e-mail on their phones, and as many as 60% – 9.5-million – are able to browse on their phones.

    The implications of these numbers are significant: in one fell swoop, they would turn the South African internet user base from the 5.3-million reported by World Wide Worx at the end of 2009 to 9.6-million. Add Instant Messaging to the mix, and the total becomes 10.56-million – exactly double that of the internet user base at the end of last year.

    “The truth is, many people with these applications on their phones do not use them and do not even know how to use them,” said Goldstuck.

    “It is clear that the cellphone has the potential to take South Africans across the digital divide, but the phones themselves need to become more user-friendly, and a vast amount of consumer education is needed.”

    Cellphone banking: brighter future

    FNB Cellphone Banking Solutions CEO Ravesh Ramlakan said that while the overall cellphone banking service had grown more rapidly than online banking, the adoption of FNB’s mobile banking WAP site has been relatively slow.

    “Customers either do not know how to access it via their cellphone, or their phone needs to be configured first in order to access. However, with technology lifecycles, the adoption to internet banking via the cellphone will feature more prominently in future,” he said.

    The study was conducted face-to-face among urban mobile phone users aged 16 and older, representing 16-million South Africans.

    SAinfo reporter

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