Spotlight’s third annual survey of the consumer market for mobile phones reveals a new buoyancy. Compared with the near stagnation in growth between 1997 and 1998, the number of people with sole or main use of a mobile phone has almost doubled, from 16 per cent of adults over-15 in 1998, to 29 per cent this year.
Spin-off use – people who have occasional use of someone else’s mobile – increased by 50 per cent, from ten to 15 per cent of adults. Now almost half those surveyed, at 45 per cent, have a mobile phone in their household.
This growth has altered the characteristics of the market, making it more inclusive than before. Mobile phones are still an upmarket phenomenon, with 46 per cent of the managerial and professional class, the ABs, having sole access to a mobile compared with a third of white- and blue-collar workers. But although there are still more male than female prime users, women are catching up, and now make up 45 per cent of main users and nearly two-thirds of occasional users.
The main change, however, is in the age of users. The youngest group, 15- to 24-year-olds, has moved into the dominant position; 44 per cent now have a mobile phone for their sole or main use, compared with 38 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds, and 31 per cent of those aged 35 to 54. People under 35 now make up 51 per cent of main owners, and 54 per cent of occasional owners, even though they represent only 35 per cent of the adult population.
Taking main and occasional users together, four out of ten have had a mobile phone for less than a year. A quarter first got their phone between one and two years ago, and only a third got theirs more than two years ago.
But the market seems to have taken off in the past three months. Fifteen per cent of main users, and 19 per cent of occasional users – 18 per cent of the total customer base – acquired their first mobile phone in the three months before NOP’s research.
Last year’s new customers show the product now appeals to a broader base than the stereotyped middle-age businessman conducting loud conversations on a train. Fifty-seven per cent of new users are women, and just over half are under-35, but there has been a slowdown in growth among 35 to 54s.
The North is catching up with the rest of the country, although only 36 per cent of Northerners have access to a mobile phone, compared with 45 per cent in the Midlands and 51 per cent of Southerners. But the North had a higher proportion of new recruits, especially in the last quarter.
Spontaneous advertising awareness
With all this interest in the market, it is hardly surprising that advertising awareness is so high. Three-quarters of the adult population could name at least one advertiser without prompting, which is unusually high for any market.
Advertising awareness was much higher for network providers than handset manufacturers. Orange maintained its 1998 position at the head of the league, recalled by half of all adults, and two-thirds of main users. Vodafone was a clear second and showed the greatest rise in impact, scoring 39 per cent compared with 22 per cent last year.
One-2-One, which tied with Vodafone in 1998, achieved a smaller rise to 32 per cent; Cellnet put on five per cent to reach 24 per cent.
Although a total of nine handset advertisers were mentioned, the only advertising remembered by more than ten per cent of adults was Nokia. Even here, impact fell from 19 per cent in 1998 to 12 per cent this year.
This year’s survey shows a far stronger awareness of network suppliers, probably because of the increase in sole and main users.
Only 11 per cent of users did not know their network, and the majority of these – 71 per cent – were occasional users, who were borrowing someone else’s phone and so were not responsible for the choice of network – or the bill.
Ignorance of the handset brand is also lower than last year, running at seven per cent. This heightened awareness reflects the increase in ad- vertising recall, and is a sign of a maturing market where brands acquire status and identity.
Vodafone has pulled ahead of Cellnet to become the clear market leader. Thirty-two per cent of main users attributed their service to Vodafone, an increase of four per cent. Cellnet is used by 29 per cent.
Orange and One-2-One have similar market shares, but their performance over the past year is significantly different.
Orange has put on share, rising four per cent to 17 per cent of main users, whereas One-2-One has fallen by one point to 15 per cent of the market.
Nokia is still the dominant force in handset sales, putting on two per cent to supply exactly a third of sole or main users. Motorola and Ericsson both account for 13 per cent of handsets, although this reflects a fall in share for Motorola.
Vodafone has increased slightly, but still only contributes nine per cent. The rest of the market is spread between nine other manufacturers, none with more than a six per cent share of ownership.
Potential for growth
Growth in the market looks likely to continue. Last year’s Spotlight exactly predicted 1998’s increase in ownership; this year’s survey indicates even faster expansion.
Six per cent of people who don’t currently have a mobile phone are very likely to acquire one in the next 12 months, and ten per cent are quite likely to, resulting in a total of 4.3 million new customers.
The market will see most growth among young users. Nineteen per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds who do not currently have a mobile phone claimed they were very likely to acquire one in the next year, almost four times more than any other age group. This age range makes up half of all potential owners.
This is in stark contrast to over-55-year-olds where only a fifth currently have access to a mobile phone. Their acquisition rate last year was half of any other age group, and only eight per cent have any intention of getting a mobile next year.