South Africans embrace mobile internet access

By Staff Writer

A research study released recently shows that the cellular habits of South African phone users have evolved dramatically in the past year as smartphones, mobile applications and the mobile Internet entered the mainstream.

The Mobility 2011 research project, conducted by World Wide Worx and backed by First National Bank, reveals that 39% of urban South Africans and 27% of rural users are now browsing the Internet on their phones. The study excludes "deep rural" users, and represents around 20-million South Africans aged 16 and above. This means that at least 6-million South Africans now have Internet access on their phones.

"Approximately 30% of FNB's 2.6 million Cellphone Banking customer base is in the middle income segment. During the festive period for example, the FNB.Mobi site, which is generally accessed by the tech savvy via the internet on their Cell Phones, attracted high volumes of visitors. Cellphone Banking is becoming the preferred alternative as people across the board are driven by the ‘anywhere, anytime' concept of banking." says Ravesh Ramlakan, CEO FNB Cellphone Banking Solutions.

The big winner in terms of sites and services is Mxit, which enjoys the attention of 24% of cellphone users aged 16 and above (29% of urban, 19% of rural users). However, Facebook is catching up fast, reaching 22% of users, and in fact passing Mxit in the urban over-16 market, with 30% reach, versus 13% among rural users.

Twitter will also become a key mobile tool, almost catching up to MXit in the coming year, from a low 6% of cellular users at the end of 2010. The proportion of urban Twitter mobile users is exactly double that of rural users: 8%, against 4%.

"Twitter is the big surprise of the study," says Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx. "But it is being pushed so hard by media personalities, it's time had to come."

The most dramatic shift of all, however, is the arrival of e-mail in the rural user-base and its growth among urban users. There has been a substantial shift among the latter, with urban use rising from 10% in 2009 to 27% at the end of 2010. While the percentage growth among rural users is lower, the fact that it was almost non-existent a year before means the 12% penetration reported for 2010 indicates mobile e-mail becoming a mainstream tool across the population.

While cameras, diaries and games continue to dominate the list of features used on phones, FM radio and music players have become part of a mobile "Big Five". However, there is a significant difference in the features preferred by urban and rural phone users. Three quarters of urban respondents (75%) use their phone cameras, but little more than half of rural respondents (55%). Music players on the phone get the vote of 53% of urban users, versus 36% of rural users. Surprisingly, the gap is reversed when it comes to games on the phone: 54% of urban users enjoy these, compared to 65% of rural users.

The Mobility 2011 project comprises two reports, namely the Mobile Consumer in SA 2011 and the Mobile Internet in SA 2011. It is based on face-to-face interviews with a nationally representative sample of South Africans, conducted towards the end of 2010.

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