In belated appreciation of the dawning of another new year, we have compiled several indicators which point to the awe-inspiring growth of mobile adoption and the role of SMS as the most popular application for mobile subscribers.
PHONES FOR EVERYONE, ALMOST.
Figures released by industry analyst Informa Telecoms & Media reveal that worldwide mobile penetration hit 50 per cent – or around 3.3 billion subscriptions – on November 26, 2007, just over 26 years since the first cellular network was launched. This is all the more impressive when it is revealed that global penetration was 10% , with only 500 million subscriptions, in the year 2000 and took another 5 years to reach 30%, but only two more after that to reach 50%!
As of the end of September there were operational networks in 224 countries around the globe, a figure that has increased from 192 in 1997 and 35 in 1987. Informa estimates that mobile networks covered 90 per cent of the global population by mid-2007.
A large number of more mature markets worldwide already have in excess of 100 per cent mobile penetration, as users increasingly sign up for more than one subscription. As of the end of September, 59 countries had mobile penetration of over 100 per cent.
WHAT’S A LANDLINE?
More than one in eight U.S. households have cell phones but lack traditional landline telephones, according to a federal study that tracks the country’s growing dependence on wireless phones. The report showed that for the first half of 2007, 14 percent of households had cell phone service but no landline telephones.
Nearly one in five Hispanic adults (18 percent) have cell phones but no landline phones, the survey showed.
In addition for the first half of 2007,
11 percent of white adults and 14 percent of black adults had only cell phone service.
Roughly three in 10 people age 18 to 29 had only wireless telephones â€” more than double the portion of those aged 30 and older who rely only on cell phones.
14 percent of males and 12 percent of females only had cell phone service.
The National Health Interview Survey, conducted by the CDC, involved in-person interviews with people in 15,996 households conducted from January through June of this year.
Researchers found that more than 55% of all adults living with unrelated roommates relied solely on cellphones, and noted that this is the “highest prevalence rate among the population subgroups examined.”
With Americans cutting the cord to their land lines, 2007 is likely to be the first calendar year in which U.S. households spend more on cell phone services, industry and government officials say.
While there are roughly 170 million land lines in use nationwide, industry officials estimate there are close to 250 million cell phones. (These figures include residential and corporate use.)
SMS = SO MANY SUBSCRIBERS!
As the popularity of SMS continues to grow, Gartner forecasts 2.3 trillion messages will be sent across major markets worldwide in 2008, a 19.6 percent increase from the 2007 total of 1.9 trillion messages. Mobile messaging revenue across major markets will grow 15.7 percent in 2008 to $60.2 billion, up from $52 billion in 2007.
Gartner estimated that there were 189 billion mobile messages sent in 2007 in North America, and this is forecast to reach 301 billion in 2008.
My how the times are changing.
Verizon, historically one of the most “closed” carrier networks in the United States, announced at the end of November that by the end of 2008, it will allow an “any device” policy, enabling users to use nearly any phone on the Verizon network, accessing nearly any application via the network. Perhaps more notably, this announcement was followed-up by the company stating that they will be switching from their CDMA network to a GSM one, further enabling the ease of transport of phones across networks. (GSM networks, the most common in the world, use the SIM card interface to easily switch carriers.) Switching to GSM from the closed CDMA architecture is by definition a move towards a more open network, so by announcing open access strategy first, Verizon avoids looking internally conflicted.
AT&T, the #1 mobile carrier in the US, followed up by announcing to the world that it too would be embracing the “open explosion”. In reality, you could always bring an unlocked GSM handset to AT&T and use it on its network. The real big news here is that when you’re contract’s up, AT&T will unlock your phone (unless of course, you have the coveted iPhone).
So what does this mean for mobile marketing?
The big PR blitz was actually initiated by a little company called Google, with its effort to “open” the carrier networks to allow for “any app” on “any phone” on “any network.” What they really mean is “any app” on “any GOOGLE phone” on “any network”. And Google’s PR tantrum worked; Sprint and T-Mobile signed up to be Google partners (with rumors that Verizon is next).
The Google platform will allow for ease of development of rich mobile applications that can run cross-network, adding yet another standard to the mix, on top of J2ME, BREW, Windows Mobile, and the ever-so-sexy-yet-ever-so-closed iPhone.
If Google has it’s way, and the world goes “gPhone”, our job as mobile marketers will be easier. Cool new apps (mobile catalogs of products, custom-branded games, and more) will be easier to develop and have a higher likelihood of working on more phones. More likely, however, we will be left with one more “standard” on top of J2ME, BREW, Windows Mobile and iPhone. It will be up to companies like Cellit to make solutions that work no matter what “standard” you’re on.
The first phones sporting the Google technology (named “Android”) aren’t expected to hit the market until the end of next year. That’s still a long way and the show-down for “mobile platform dominance” is far from over.
The “end” of closed networks marks the very early start of a new age of delivering more powerful applications into the hands of the end-users. This end was predicted and prayed for. (In fact, I did it back in September of 2006.) We will just have to see how quickly the “open factor” affects our abilities to deliver richer, more compelling content to the consumer.
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Anam Mobile has revealed that global mobile operators are losing out on as much as €3.6 Billion (US$4.9) of revenue per year through lost opportunities to create value-added SMS messages.
Text messaging has grown into a phenomenally popular form of communication, with research from the telecoms analyst company Informa Telecoms & Media revealing that over 600 billion messages were sent worldwide during the first quarter of this year, over 75 messages for every mobile subscriber. Yet many operators are focusing on other, less well-established, data applications as they aim to increase ARPU and profitability.
By introducing new data services through SMS, operators can tap into the existing level of comfort that consumers already feel when using the short, 160 character format. This approach will make it easier for new services to be adopted and can attach real value to the messages that individuals already send.
“After voice, text messaging is still the most popular application on mobiles,” said Dan Winterbottom, Senior Analyst, Mobile Content & Applications at Informa Telecoms & Media. “Yet when it comes to innovation and new services, text messaging is being ignored by many operators in favor of new data services. There is an innate understanding by subscribers of how texting works, this could be utilized by operators when they introduce new services.”
Currently, a large proportion of text messages are included as part of bundled deals provided by operators and therefore are, in effect, free to the customer. This means that each individual message has a low perceived value to the user and almost no financial value to the operator.
However, there are many applications that could potentially be introduced to consumers through SMS. If the subscriber is able to use SMS to interact with their device in a more efficient, more enjoyable or more productive way, then they will be willing to pay a small additional fee for those SMS messages. The subscriber will accept that these messages fall outside of the “free” text bundles, or add on a new bundle to their service plan; SMS messages are one of the few services that the user will always know how to use on their mobile phone.
Gerry McKenna, CEO of Anam says, “I am constantly surprised that, until now, operators have not fully grasped the opportunities available to them through SMS. The €3.5 billion of missed revenue can be earned by simply enhancing the text services that they offer customers. There doesn’t need to be a shift in consumer mobile behavior – they can stick with their trusty SMS message, whilst the operator is able to create immediate results with additional revenue streams.”
Similarly, many advertisers have yet to grasp the potential of text messaging as an integral part of their marketing strategies. Aside from the staggering usage statistics mentioned above, SMS is the mobile service that the most users feel comfortable with and already know how to use. The only potential stumbling block mentioned above regarding the carriers does not apply to advertisers: extra cost. Since mobile marketing is handled by a company such as Cellit, and not the carriers themselves, advertisers are able to utilize the messages that most subscribers are already allotted as part of a text bundle or other plan. Thus if mobile users are willing to pay extra to “interact with their device in a more efficient, more enjoyable or more productive way”, then how thrilled would they be to do the same thing with advertisers for no extra cost, especially when they would only be receiving these advertisements and offers from companies whom they have specifically requested information from via an opt-in system?