Social networking driving mobile data boom

Forget music and video downloads, social networking is driving the growth explosion in mobile data usage, analysts said today.

Around a third of young adults (those under 36) in the UK regularly access sites such as Facebook and Twitter from their mobile phones, suggesting that operators should keep working with trusted web brands to fuel internet usage.

The stats came from industry researcher CCS Insight, which noted that the 16 to 24 year-olds are often cited as the most vibrant segment of the market, but when it comes to buying mobile content, it’s those over 24 who are doing the spending.

“Over 24s have more disposable income and, unlike their younger counterparts, don’t automatically assume content is free,” said Paolo Pescatore, head of mobile content at CCS.

The researcher carried out a survey of more than 1,000 adults between 16 and 35 years old, and concluded that because the phenomenal growth in mobile phones and internet usage have collided with spectacular results, networks are going to have to think carefully about how they charge for mobile internet access.

Those under 36 love social networking via the mobile and expect to pay for it, however, younger adults expect mobile content—especially music and videos—to be free. Moreover, one third of the survey respondents said they’d like the bandwidth-hungry BBC iPlayer on their mobile phones.

This leaves operators in a predicament. “The challenge operators face is balancing demand for these services with the bandwidth they consume—particularly as applications such as YouTube, BBC iPlayer and Skype become more popular,” said Pescatore.

“The web is revolutionising the way people use mobile phones. Forget music downloads and video—social networking is what people want. Media owners and operators will have to find new ways to make money from their assets,” he said. “Operators are relying on mobile internet usage to fill the revenue gap as profit margins fall. This report shows they need to keep working with trusted web brands to fuel demand.”

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Coincidentally, UK mobile operator O2 said Monday that it has forged an agreement with Twitter allowing users to receive free SMS alerts from Twitter. The deal follows up existing agreements from Facebook and Bebo and takes effect from August.

As part of the deal, Twitter will be heavily promoted on O2’s Active portal and will likely be expanded to Telefonica’s other operations.

O2 said that over a million customers per month now access social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook using O2 Active, bolstered by hundreds of thousands of iPhone users who have downloaded social networking applications.

“We believe that mobile will soon become the most popular way of accessing social networking sites, giving real time access to tweets and status updates wherever you are,” said Antony Douglas, head of content at O2.

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