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South Africa's mobile habits uncovered

It’s official: South African men are bigger talkers than women when it comes to cell phones in their cars. 57% of men interviewed in a major new study admitted to talking on their cellphones while driving, compared to 37% of women.

The study forms part of the year-long Mobility 2005 research project undertaken by independent research organisation World Wide Worx, with the backing of First National Bank, Cell C, Sentech and the Mobile Institute. In the sixth phase of the study, entitled The Impact of Mobile Technologies on the South African Consumer, released today, a nationally representative sample of 2400 South Africans took part in telephonic interviews over a three-month period during the first half of 2005.

“The interviews were conducted with landline users who also own cellular phones, resulting in a sample that represents the upper two-thirds income brackets of cellphone users,” says Peter Searll, director of Plus 94 Harris, which conducted the field work for this phase on behalf of World Wide Worx.

The research unveils fascinating patterns in cellphone usage, and a detailed picture of a very satisfied market.

“One of the most significant findings of the consumer research was that South Africans love their cellphones,” says Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx. “Across half a dozen dimensions we rated, people were extremely satisfied with the impact of their cellphones on their lives.”

The highest satisfaction rating was with the impact of cellular phones on family security: 94.8% of respondents gave a positive rating. Impact on the user’s own sense of security and satisfaction with cell phone’s performance were tied at a 94.3% positive rating, followed by impact on personal life at 93.6%, satisfaction with network service at 93.2% and Impact on working life bringing up the rear, but not by far, at 92.1% positive.

This is clearly the market segment that keeps the cellular manufacturers in business: just over half of respondents said they had obtained a new handset in the past year. Of those who obtained new phones, half again said they would again obtain new handsets in the coming year.

What happened to their old phones? The biggest proportion – 44% of respondents – passed it on to family members.18% kept it as a spare, 14% sold it, 10% gave it to a friend, and 5% simply threw it away. No less than 6% said their previous phone was stolen.

Age was found to be a major differentiator of the way South Africans use their cellular phones, particularly in the choice of contract versus pre-paid accounts. While 33% of all users in this market segment are on contract and 64% on pre-paid, only 8% of those in the 16-19 age group are on contracts, with 90% on pre-paid. This doubles to 17% on contract in the 20-24 age group, with 78% on pre-paid. Contract use rises steadily through the age groups until it peaks in the 46-49 age group, at 40%, and then begins to decline again.

More than half the respondents cited free or cheap phones as the reason for choosing their form of contract, pointing to a dramatic market shift if current regulatory proposals to scrap contract incentives become law. Average expenditure among contract users was R384 per month, and among pre-paid users R134, again indicating the impact that would be made on the market should there be a further shift to pre-paid. Not surprisingly, expenditure is lowest in the 16-19 age group, rising steadily to a peak in the 35-44 age group, and then dropping steadily as age increases – confirming the old stereotype that yuppies are the most enthusiastic cellphone users.

“While an ‘age gap’ exists between revenue and usage, we found that adoption and planned adoption of non-voice applications, like picture messaging, cellphone banking and 3G, are strongest among younger people,” says Searll. “The answer is probably to increase education of cellphone usage and technology among older users.”

But there is one area where older users need no education: leaving cellphones on during meetings. The most guilty group here is the 20-24 age group, with 19% leaving their phones on during meetings, and the percentage declining steadily through the age groups to 10% for those aged 55-64.

Nokia is far and away the first choice of cellphone brand for South African phone users, with Motorola and Samsung in distant second and third place.

87% of respondents have a bank account and, of these, 13% have tried cell phone banking. Almost two thirds of those who have tried it, however, have only done so to request a balance. Despite this, almost half of those with bank accounts believe cellphone banking is safe, and almost two thirds regard it as convenient, suggesting powerful growth in this area in the coming years.

“FNB is very pleased with the take up of our cellphone banking offering, which was launched in March this year. It highlights the positive response and interest in cellphone banking as shown in the research results” says Len Pienaar, CEO of Mobile & Transact Solutions, FNB. “This sets the tone for cellphone banking going forward.”

Finally, about those men on their cellphones in their cars: it’s not entirely positive for women. While men are more likely to keep their mouths moving with their cars, they are slightly more responsible than women in doing so. 72% of men who use their cellphones while driving do so with hands-free kits, while only 66% of the women who talk while driving do so hands-free.

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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