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Just who is using the mobile internet?

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Category: Business models


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The mobile internet has become part of everyday life, fuelled by the increased penetration of smartphones across the mobile subscriber base and by the widespread availability of mobile broadband connectivity. Morgan Stanley recently forecast that more users will connect to the internet using mobile devices than PCs within five years. But, as with the traditional internet, the way in which mobile internet services are used varies widely across the subscriber base.

According to research from Mobile Squared and Lightspeed Research, the most active mobile internet age group is 35–44 years old, making up 24% of the total, followed by the 55 years and older group, at 23% — giving the mobile internet community an older age profile than might perhaps be expected. However, when it comes to the heaviest users, it is 18–24 year olds which lead the way, followed by the 25–34 year olds, indicating that younger users have embraced the mobile internet to a greater extent than their older counterparts.

A split along gender lines was also identified. Mobile Squared said that men are heavier users of mobile internet services, with 35% claiming to use the mobile internet at least once per day compared to 30% of women who do the same. Women are more heavily represented in the occasional use categories.

Orange has also explored differences in mobile internet usage trends among male and female users in its UK customer base, as part of its regular Digital Media Index study. Again, use was dominated by men: 57% of customers accessing the Orange World portal during the final three months of 2009 were men, with this gender accounting for 75% of mobile video and 71% of mobile TV clips purchased, and making up 64% of unique social networking users.

There is some indication that this is changing. The Nielsen Company conducted a US market survey which found that mobile internet growth is now being driven by “women, teens and seniors”, as the technology breaks out of its early adopter niche to become a mass-market proposition.

While there are differences in how mobile internet services are used across age and gender groups, there does appear to be one area of commonality: social networking is the application primarily driving mobile internet use across-the-board.  According to figures from the GSM Association and comScore, Facebook is the single most popular site for mobile users in the UK, with Google’s various properties in second place.  In a separate US market survey, comScore said that social networking was the fastest growing mobile internet service, whether accessed by a dedicated application or device browser.

Other applications are also gaining ground, with mobile video identified as a key growth area, driven by services such as YouTube. This is the result of increased penetration of smartphones among the mass-market customer base, which is leading users to access more and more multimedia content while on the move — placing further demand on already pressured mobile networks.

According to mobile advertising network BuzzCity, a survey of mobile users across the Americas, Asia, Africa, Western Europe and the Middle East found that 90% of respondents had used their mobile to directly purchase products or services.  While the majority of these transactions are related to mobile services and products, such as purchasing prepaid credit top-ups or ringing tones, there is also growth in the use of mobile handsets for other m-commerce transactions, such as buying from online stores, paying bills or making bookings.

A 2009 survey from BuzzCity revealed another interesting statistic: most (70%) of the 2,000 global users surveyed accessed mobile internet services while in the home, with 11% browsing while at work — in both cases where alternative browsing devices and network connectivity are likely to be available.

Stewart Baines is a technology writer with Futurity Media

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