You can get me on the mobile…

The mobile phone is no longer a desirable fashion accessory but a necessary modern communications tool and the incidence of people using only mobiles is on the increase

The days when owning a mobile phone was something of a status symbol have long gone: penetration has reached 75 per cent among UK adults aged 15 years old and over. Indeed, in some key demographic groups, such as 18- to 24-year-olds, penetration exceeds 90 per cent. It is only among the older generations and the lower social grade where penetration levels are as low as 30 per cent.

The phenomenon of the “mobile-only” (solus) phone user is also now well established. Among certain sub-groups of the population, more than 20 per cent of people use only a mobile phone, according to the latest TGI Marketing research.

Further analysis of TGI’s data, which surveyed 25,000 adults for the 12 months ending September 2003, shows that there are 1.75 million adults who own mobile phones but do not have access to a landline telephone. It may be that they live in a household where, either by choice or restriction, they do not have access to an existing landline service. Whatever the reason, they do not regard themselves as contactable in that way.

The data shows that age is an important factor in people’s decision whether to use only a mobile, but in fact lifestage is the most powerful driver.

The TGI’s lifestage index, created using information relating to household structure and relationships, as well as age, reveals that the “Flown the Nest” group (15- to 34-year-olds, who are not married and do not live with a relative) comprises more than 20 per cent of the mobile-only group. This group is four times more likely than average to possess only a mobile phone.

Students, unsurprisingly, make up more than 20 per cent of the Flown the Nest group. People who rent their homes or have been living in their current accommodation for less than one year are also more likely to own only a mobile as opposed to having a landline facility as well.

The Flown the Nest group is also more likely to favour fixed contracts rather than pay-as-you-go options when signing up to a mobile operator. And, compared with the rest of their lifestage peers, this group are more likely to have been influenced by personal recommendation when choosing their phone package.

As would be expected, there is a strong concentration of home-renters among the “Nest Builder” category. A significant number of these people favour their mobile phones over landlines.

Those who rent their accommodation are far more likely to own a mobile only than the rest of the Nest Builders. The renters appear to completely reject the notion of bulk pre-payment for their service package and are very keen on using just about every technological feature that their mobile has to offer.

There are some 500,000 solus mobiles within the category of “Playschool Parents”, so called because they live with at least one child who is four years old or younger. This group comprises a high proportion of females in the lower social grades and, again, it’s the home rental sector in which they will be found in disproportionate numbers.

In the case of Playschool Parents, there is a likelihood to favour pay-as-you-go service packages. These people also show a general willingness to admit to being influenced by just about all marketing communications to a greater extent than their landline-owning peers.

The last lifestage group in which there is high incidence of mobile-only use is the TGI “Mid-life Independents”. They are 35 to 54 years old, unmarried and have no relatives living in their household. Of the mobile-only users within this group, 80 per cent are male and about half work part-time or not at all.

Renting accommodation is also a fact for almost three-quarters of the Mid-life Independents and one in five describe themselves as divorced or separated. Again, pay-as-you-go is the favoured option and, no doubt due to the more male bias in their numbers, the mobile-only sub-group are much more likely to quote signal reception and other technical specifications as being the key influences behind their phone and service choice.

For a variety of marketing activities, not least that of telephone market research, the existence of these mobile-only sub-groups provides a major challenge. Whenever possible, calling mobiles for research purposes should be avoided (especially internationally, due to cost) and certainly screening questions are needed to eliminate the possibility of the respondent responding to a questionnaire while driving.

If a potential respondent is contacted via mobile phone, it is advisable to arrange a separate time to call on a landline – if they have access to one. Lastly, it is vital that researchers learn more about mobile-only respondents and how frequently these people are questioned in order to get accurate costing for telephone research among them. And that will be a complicated exercise.

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