THE Mobility 2012 research findings released last week
uncovered the age divide in mobile data use in South Africa. Arthur Goldstuck drills down.
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, broadband beauty is
in the eye of the downloader. Or rather, the age of the beholder.
It turns out that the older you are, the less data you use,
and the younger you are, the less satisfied you are with data download speeds.
This is one of the more intriguing findings from our
Mobility 2012 research project, conducted in June this year.
The most important overall finding was that South African
cellphone users are using more of their phone budget on data and less on voice
than 18 months ago. At the end of 2010, data made up 8% of average spend on
At the end of June 2012, that had gone up by half, to 12%.
Voice spending dropped from 77% of average
phone budget to 73%.
Within those statistics, however, lurked a fascinating
trend: the proportion of spend is directly related to age – the younger the
user, the higher the proportion.
This doesn’t mean that younger users spend
more rands on data. In fact, it may well be less, as their overall spending on
their cellphones is lower than for older users.
For example, those aged 16-18, on average, spend 17% of
their phone budget on data, while those aged 46 and over spend only 11% - but
of a much larger budget.
For this reason, the networks have not yet felt the
full effect of this trend in terms of declining voice revenues. But they are
feeling the effect all the same.
In its recent annual results, Vodacom announced that voice
revenues grew by less than 3% over the past year, while data revenue grew by a
The new findings, however, should be a wakeup call to
networks that they cannot treat all users the same, and have to start bundling,
packaging and marketing voice and data services differently to different market
In particular, they need to appreciate the differences
between the seven ages of data. It looks something like this, backed up with a few
statistics from our research:
(under 12): Gimme games, gimme games. Oh wait, look, a new game! Gimme!
(12-15): Data costs nothing, because mom or dad pays for it. And I need it to chat with my friends,
because they’re all on WhatsApp, MXit and BBM.
pre-adult (16-18): Data is what I do. Voice? Oh yeah, some people still expect
that. Of phone spend, 20% is on data, 17%
on SMS (any text is good text), only 58% on voice.
4. The young
adult (19-24): 17% of phone spend is on
data, but only 11% on SMS. You have to watch those student budgets in case of
dating emergency, you know? Voice takes up 66%.
rising star (25-35): 14% of phone spend is on data. Why use my own if I can use
the company’s? SMS gets 12% of my budget, and voice 72%.
down (36-45): 11% of phone spend is on data, and most of it is my kids showing
me how this app download thing works. SMS takes up 13%, because that’s the kind of
messaging I know. Voice makes up 74%, but it’s a big 74% because I have more
disposable income than any of those data-hugger kids.
7. Past all
that (46+): 6% of phone spend is on data, but that was by accident. Oh, you
mean email uses data? Oh well, then. And 11% on SMS, because I grew up with
it. Voice takes up 81%, because I don’t need my reading glasses to talk. But it’s my
talking that keeps the networks’ voice departments in the money.
Of course, these are averages, so you do get the odd
18-year-old who doesn’t know how to optimise a WiFi access point, and you do
get the occasional 60-year-old geek who is addicted to Angry Birds Space.
But in general, how old you are, how much you have to spend,
and how you spend it will dictate what phone as well as what voice and data
package is best for you. One size sure doesn't fit all ages.
* For more on the Mobility 2012 project, visit
* Follow Arthur Goldstuck on Twitter on @art2gee
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