Wireless Aims for Widespread Appeal

By the end of 2005, the number of worldwide Internet users will nearly triple to 1.17 billion, and an increasing number of these users will be using wireless devices to go online, according to a report by eTForecasts. For now, however, wireless Internet users match the profile of the Internet’s earliest users — young affluent males.

In developed countries, eTForecasts’ “Web/Internet/Information Appliances: Technologies, Trends & Markets” report expects wireless Internet access to supplement PC Internet access. But in countries with low Internet penetration, wireless Internet devices will be the primary means of accessing the Internet. According to Jupiter Research, more than 50 million Internet users in Latin America will access the Web via mobile devices by 2005 — making wireless Internet access in the region almost as widespread as access from PCs.

“The wireless Internet will take off rapidly once always-on service and useful content for the small displays of wireless devices are available,” said Egil Juliussen, president of eTForecasts. “The rapid growth will be due to millions of dormant or Web-enabled cell phones that are only used for voice services. As the wireless Internet user experience improves, an increasing portion of the dormant Web-enabled phones will become active wireless Internet devices.”

A study done in December 2000 by Telephia, Inc. suggests that user satisfaction with wireless devices is improving. Consumers rated the mobile data capabilities of their mobile phones, PDAs, laptops, and two-way pagers and average of seven on a scale of one to 10 (10 being “extremely satisfied”). The average level of satisfaction among mobile phone users rose from 6.0 to 7.0 when compared with a Telephia study done in May 2000. PDA users rose from 6.0 to 7.1, but the users of two-way pagers were the most satisfied, with a 7.3 average.

While the market waits for the capabilities of wireless devices and the needs of consumers to converge, the current users of wireless devices look familiar. They are the same demographics that led the way to Internet adoption less than a decade ago.

According to a study by Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch (TNS Intersearch), 7 percent of American adults say that they or someone in their household currently use a mobile phone to access the Internet, while 4 percent use PDAs or handheld computers. The study also found that wireless Web device owners tend to be young males 18 to 34 years of age with a household income of $100,000 or more. Eleven percent of all adults surveyed said they or someone in their household plan to buy a wireless Web device to access the Net in the coming year.

Internet Users/Wireless Users
2000 2002 2005
United States
Internet Users 135 169 214
Wireless Internet Users 2 18 83
Internet Users 414 673 1,174
Wireless Internet Users 40 225 730
Western Europe
Internet Users 95 148 246
Wireless Internet Users 7 59 168
Source: eTForecasts

“Clearly, the appeal of wireless Web products is becoming more widespread,” said Brenda McFarland, senior vice president of TNS Intersearch. “While the primary market will continue to attract those 18 to 34 years of age, this technology is quickly gaining ground with the 35- to 44-year-old population.”

Most wireless Web users (83 percent) say they access the Internet for personal use, and close to half (49 percent) do so for work. Due in part to the young age of wireless users, school-related use is also popular (30 percent). E-mail is the most widely used application of wireless users (69 percent), according to the TNS Intersearch study, followed by research (32 percent), games (26 percent), and news (25 percent). Approximately one in five (21 percent) use their device for shopping and buying on the Internet, to check sports scores (20 percent), or for stock quotes (19 percent).

While the TNS Intersearch survey found continued growth for wireless devices among a wide range of users, a wireless gender gap remains among those planning to purchase a wireless Web device in the coming year. Females seem more inhibited (8 percent expect to buy within a year) than men (14 percent).

internet.com’s report “Ready… Or Not? IT Professionals Find Promise and Problems With the Wireless Web” also found that technology-savvy consumers are the first to move online via wireless devices, and that email is the most common wireless application used.

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