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U.S. Closes Gap on Europe
U.S. Closes Gap on Europe

Every day I am literally amazed at the evidence of progress presented to me between all involved in the mobile data value chain. The estimated gap between the U.S. with its segmented interoperability and the holy union of GSM-based Euro operators was about two years behind in terms of delivering next-generation applications and user experiences. However, month by month, this gap appears to be closing at a decent rate of speed.

Many wireless pundits question data applications that seem inspired by technology or handset companies that do not have hard consumer market research to back claims or justifications. Hard line is, this is the evolutionary process that all technologies cycle through. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Picture messaging rolled out from one side of the globe to the other. There are some interesting observations to be had there on different approaches to what exactly it should be used for.

The drive home in the U.S. is accelerating rapidly with promotional incentives from MNOs. A global trend is that the cellphone is fast becoming a tool of daily life. The average U.S. mobile subscriber burns 490 minutes per month. This surpassed residential landline use during Q4 2002 according to The Yankee Group. TYG estimates average household landline voice usage of 1,250 minutes per month (equivalent to 480 minutes per person each month, based on the U.S. Census estimate of an average of 2.6 people per household).

So as the cellphone becomes more integral to daily activity, it is the duty of technology and those who deliver it to make our lives easier and more entertaining, while providing revenue streams, of course. Market segmentation is obviously critical for operators in determining which services will likely be adopted more quickly than others.

IDC has identified new categories of mobile consumers starting to come to fruition based on their application choices. An online survey of 2,776 U.S. wireless users identified and profiled five distinct cluster groups based on application awareness, patterns of use, and demographics:
1. Wireless Innovators (5.6%): Earliest adopters of data services and content
2. Productivity Pioneers (7%): Early adopters who focus on personal communications that increase productivity
3. SMS Users (15.9%): "txters"
4. Entertainment Junkies (10.5%)
5. Mobile Resisters (61%): Those who express little interest in wireless voice and data services

Gaming, ringtones, and SMS remain the most popular wireless data applications according to the poll, although a vast majority of consumers (87%) claim that quality of service, including reception, coverage area, and phone service, is the top priority.

The survey results provide evidence that a large proportion of wireless customers has not been drawn to data applications, remembering the sample size mind you. However, the innovators are likely to play a key role in changing attitudes. These innovators are generally younger, willing to try new things, more tech savvy, and more affluent for the most part.

The market conditions are ripe, and with a host of recent and new features seeping into the market - such as polyphonic ringtones and sound; enabling customers to record and send short multimedia clips; RealNetworks' multimedia streaming audio and video with content providers; Nokia's introduction of the 3300, a portable MPD player, stereo FM radio, digital recorder, and mobile games device; and lots more coming in the following months - will close the gap between the U.S. and Europe. Yet the critical evidence will be whether consumer willingness to pay for the services in the short term will be enough to impact the bottom line for MNOs.

About Tom Dibble
Tom Dibble , a wireless entrepreneur, is a cofounder of
Global Wireless Forum, a forum dedicated to dealing with commercial, strategic,
and
technical issues on the evaluation of the wireless age in Europe and
the U.S.

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