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3G – ‘money down the drain’

3G is a low priority for mobile users across the globe who see the technology as costly and unnecessary, according to a study by market information company, TNS. The firm noted little increase in 3G usage amongst consumers who see mobile TV and internet surfing as a waste of time and money.

The firm says that at a global level, almost a quarter of people – 23 per cent – cite cost as the main obstacle to them using 3G. A further 22 per cent say cost puts them off using Wi-Fi and 21 per cent refuse to download music to their mobiles because of the expense. A further 23 per cent choose not to surf the internet on their mobiles because it costs too much, the study found.

Perhaps surprisingly TNS found that 3G and wifi have fallen close to the bottom of the mobile phone feature ‘wishlist’ with fewer people today aspiring to have the features than they did a year ago. Just four per cent of those surveyed in 2006 listed 3G as a priority feature on mobiles, compared with seven per cent in 2005.

In line with other reports on 3G, TNS found that while penetration rates continue to grow – 20 per cent of mobile users now have 3G devices worldwide – just 9 per cent use their 3G capability. Of the 26 per cent of people who have wifi access through their phones (including Smartphones and PDAs), just 11 per cent are using it. Mobile TV is no more popular, with only 9 of the 21 per cent of people with mobile TV-capable phones actually using the service.

TNS lays the responsibility firmly at the feet of mobile providers which it says “are still not giving their customers what they want”. The study found that the most popular methods of payment for 3G and wifi services are buffet-style price plans – either ‘pay once for unlimited use’, ‘fixed monthly sum for unlimited use’ or having the service bundled as part of the overall contract. However, according to TNS many customers are being forced into paying per kilobyte used or paying each time a service is used – an unpopular strategy among consumers.

Hanis Harun, Global Director of TNS Technology told Telecoms.com that while there remains general excitement about new technologies, bad past experiences and large phone bills have had a profoundly negative effect on consumer attitudes to what 3G can offer them.

“Mobile TV for example,” explains Harun, “there are a lot of lapsed users here as well as a high number of people who have not used the technology at all. Others have tried it and not been impressed.” Harun explains that mobile TV has not lived up to its promise, particularly in the minds of users who have experimented with it and been underwhelmed. Asked if operators should take some responsibility for introducing technologies that are not ready, Harun says “yes, that is fair”.

The mobile music market however, could provide a glimpse of what is to come. Harun cites the reports findings which suggest consumers want to pay a fixed sum each month for music and other extras. Other models Harun believes, put consumers off. “People like to know what they are paying each month so they can keep track of their expenses with a fixed fee.”

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