Mobile Users Yearning for Micropayments

More than 40 percent of mobile phone users would like to use their mobile phones for small cash transactions such as transit fares or vending machines, according to an A.T. Kearney study.

The Mobinet study, conducted by Kearney and Judge Institute, Cambridge University’s business school, found that only 2 percent of the mobile phone users surveyed have actually used their phone to make a mobile payment. This is hardly surprising since the technology behind such transaction is neither widely known or widely available. The intent to use mobile cash was highest in Japan (50 percent), 46 percent in Europe, 43 percent in the rest of Asia and 38 percent in the United States.

“Consumer tastes in the mobile arena are fragile, so it is imperative that the community of mobile phone makers, carriers, content providers and financial services companies rally quickly to provide mobile cash capabilities before consumer interest wanes,” said Paul Collins, A.T. Kearney principal and leader of the study. “The Mobinet Index recorded high numbers for intent to use mobile phones to access the Internet 18 months ago. Those numbers have fallen drastically, primarily because the mobile community hasn’t provided consumers with enough reasons to access the Internet with their phones. Mobile cash could suffer the same fate if consumers aren’t soon given compelling opportunities to use it.”

Short messaging service (SMS) is being used at least once a month by 80 percent of mobile phone users in some European countries to send short text-based messages via their phones, the study also found. More than 80 percent of mobile phone users in Finland and Britain report using SMS at least once a month. In Sweden, Singapore, Italy and Germany, once-a-month usage is near 75 percent. Across the 14 countries studied, 35 percent of respondents reported using SMS at least once a day, with once-a-day usage 41 percent in Europe, 33 percent in Asia and 5 percent in the U.S.

SMS use continues to be most popular among those under age 25 (50 percent use it once a day). Across the 14 countries in the survey, 45 percent of mobile users age 25 to 34, and 28 percent of 35 to 44-year- olds reported using SMS at least once a day.

“It’s clear that SMS has achieved mass market penetration in many countries as its acceptance has spread far beyond the youth market,” said L.C. Mitchell, A.T. Kearney vice president and leader of the firm’s communications and media practice in the Americas. “This provides a strong foundation for the development and launch of next-generation messaging technologies in Europe and Asia, and will likely shorten the growth curve for SMS adoption in the United States.”

There is still plenty of room for SMS to mature, including the development of transaction-based SMS and multimedia messaging services, location-based services or enhanced messaging services. Thirteen percent of mobile phone users worldwide and 18 percent of users in Europe report having already used transaction-based SMS functions to download ringtones or logos for their phones.

“With consumers becoming increasingly comfortable with SMS, it’s inevitable that they’ll be looking for the next new thing in mobile services,” Mitchell said. “The mobile industry must leverage the successful market penetration of SMS to derive new revenue streams from the expected launch of next generation messaging capabilities.”

The rise in SMS use also brought a sharp increase in advertising sent via the capability. Thirty-one percent of respondents in the 14 countries report they’ve received some sort of advertisement via their mobile phones, up from 1 percent in the June 2001 Mobinet study. SMS advertising is most prevalent in South Korea where nearly two-thirds of mobile phone users have received an ad. More than 40 percent of users in Germany, China, Taiwan and Finland have received SMS advertising. The two countries with the lowest rate of SMS advertising were Australia, at 19 percent of users, and the United States at 8 percent.

The study also found that penetration of Internet-enabled mobile phones continues to grow. One third of respondents worldwide reported having an Internet-enabled phone (23 percent in the United States, 33 percent in Europe, 67 percent in Japan and 29 percent in the remainder of Asia). This is a 41 percent increase from the June 2001 study. However, the number of phone users accessing the Internet with their phones remained flat. With the exception of Japan, the large majority of Internet-enabled phone users have never used the wireless Internet capability on their mobile phones.

The Mobinet study was based on the responses of 5,600 mobile phone users on four continents.

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