Mobiles still a male enclave

The mobile phone market shows surprisingly little growth in ownership, in spite of the massive advertising budgets of the network providers – mainly because of a lack of take-up among women.

Ownership of mobiles

NOP’s exclusive research for Spotlight reveals that ownership of mobile phones has grown by three per cent between February 1997 and 1998, and now stands at 16 per cent of all adults aged 15 or over. The number of incremental users – people who have a mobile in the household which they use occasionally has stayed virtually static at ten per cent, indicating that growth in the market seems to have come from new main users, rather than from occasional users getting their own phone.

Ten per cent of adults live with a mobile phone user, but – two-thirds of the adult population – have no contact with the market at home.

This slow growth, despite a record fourth quarter for connections last year, means that the market is mainly made up of experienced owners. Four out of ten users have had a mobile phone for more than two years, and another third for between a year and two years; novices make up less than a third of users. But the market is beginning to show signs of maturity, with users switching between providers to find better deals.

Men make up the majority – 60 per cent – of main users, although twice as many women as men use someone else’s mobile occasionally. Ownership is concentrated among people aged 25 to 54, and peaks among 25 to 34-year-olds. Some 17 per cent of under 25-year-olds, compared with 21 per cent of 25 to 54-year-olds have a mobile phone, though they are twice as likely as average to use someone else’s phone. Only six per cent of over 55-year-olds have a mobile, and half that number are incremental users.

The market is still biased towards the South of England. Half of all main users are located in the South compared with 30 per cent living in the Midlands, and 21 per cent in the North. Nearly two-thirds of main users come from the upmarket, ABC1, social grades; but ownership is now slightly higher among C1s – junior managers and white collar workers- than the top professional ABs.

Advertising awareness

Spontaneous advertising awareness has increased more than actual participation in the market. Seven out of ten adults remembered advertising for at least one network or handset provider, compared with 60 per cent a year before. Awareness among main and occasional users was even higher, at 82 per cent.

Orange maintained its place at the head of the advertising awareness league, with almost twice the recall level of any other player in the market – although its actual rate of recall was almost static at 41 per cent. One-2-One put on nine points from 1997, to achieve recall by 23 per cent of adults, a performance matched by Vodafone’s increase from 12 per cent to 22 per cent. Cellnet, on the other hand, dropped five points to take fourth place with 19 per cent. Nokia also scored 19 per cent, but in this case advertising awareness almost trebled year on year from seven per cent to 19 per cent. No other advertiser reached ten per cent recall.

Handset manufacturers

Nokia strengthened its position as the dominant handset manufacturer, supplying 30 per cent of main users’ handsets in 1998, compared with 25 per cent in 1997 – nearly twice as many as their nearest rivals, Motorola with 16 per cent and Ericsson with 13 per cent of main users. But the close position of these two manufacturers hid a major difference in performance. Motorola’s share has dropped from nearly a quarter of the market last year, whereas Ericsson’s has doubled. Given the virtually static number of users, owners are obviously changing handsets.

Network providers

Network provision also showed considerable movement within the market, as users shopped around for better deals and tariffs. Cellnet has lost share, from 32 per cent to 27 per cent of main users, while Vodafone held on to its 28 per cent of the market. Both these providers have more than twice as many subscribers as Orange with 13 per cent and One-2-One up from 13 to 16 per cent.

Movements in both the handset and network sectors closely mirror advertising awareness, indicating that this is a very marketing-responsive market.

Attitudes to mobiles

Users’ attitudes to the network and handset providers showed scope for improvements, providing a competitive climate. Just over half of all main users were very satisfied with the network provider, suggesting that the remaining 43 per cent – especially the 12 per cent who were very unhappy – would be open to other networks’ approaches. The most vulnerable area appeared to be network coverage; fewer than half, 46 per cent, of main users were totally satisfied with coverage, and this was considerably lower in the North than the rest of country, in spite of the providers’ recent assertions to have improved coverage.

Tariffs caused less discontent. Only a third of regular users found the tariffs confusing although, with 20 per cent apparently baffled, there is still room for clarification. Four out of ten users found calls more expensive than they expected, although dissatisfaction on this score was highest among 15 to 24s and over 55-year-old users, the age groups likely to be less affluent.

The majority of users – nearly three-quarters – are perfectly happy with their current handset, although the 15 per cent who wanted a different model represented a sizeable potential for change, especially given some retailers’ buy back policies.

Future of the market

Last year’s Spotlight showed that three per cent of non-users were intending to acquire a mobile phone – a forecast which proved accurate. This year’s survey indicates that the market will continue to grow steadily rather than dramatically. Only four per cent of non-users intend to get a mobile in the next 12 months; although a further nine per cent – nearly double the number in 1997 – are quite interested.

The male domination of the market looks set to continue: although likely recruits are evenly spread across the social spectrum and the regions, men made up three-quarters of all those intending to get a mobile phone in the next year. If the market is to see real growth, providers must address the shortfall of female users.


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