Nearly half the world’s mobile phone users still only use their devices to make voice calls and send SMS messages, according to a report from GSMA Intelligence. The Global Mobile Engagement Index classifies users into four categories, from “Aficionados” (most engaged), down through “Pragmatists” and “Networkers” down to “Talkers” (least engaged.)
In 2016 the Talkers—those who only use their mobile phones to make voice calls and send SMS—accounted for 47 percent of adult mobile phone owners worldwide. However, the GSMA predicts that this segment will shrink to 29 percent of the total by 2030, as users in the developing world become more engaged with data use and advances in mobile technology make it more available and affordable.
The GSMA’s survey, which took in 56 global markets representing 80 percent of the world’s population, shows that the three highest-scoring countries in terms of mobile engagement in 2016 were South Korea, Qatar and the United States.
This report from the GSMA is very interesting and valuable as a reminder of where we are in the mobile market, and it suggests some strategies for operators. For all the talk of the mobile data revolution sweeping the globe—including in these pages—the report makes it strikingly clear that uptake of data services has barely broken the 50 percent mark.
Of course, that figure is an average that masks a great imbalance between developed and developing markets. However, the report indicates that the dichotomy may not be as stark as some might suppose: For example, it found that even in France and the United States, SMS is still more frequently used than IP messaging such as Apple’s iMessage or OTT solutions such as Skype and WhatsApp.
In our view, the GSMA statistic points to two paths ahead for mobile operators: Of course MNOs (and device manufacturers, too) will and should continue to innovate in order to make data services more affordable and available, continue to increase 4G/LTE network coverage, and keep on incentivizing customers to take up data use and then increase their usage. On the other hand, operators should not neglect the “Talkers.” Even though the report predicts that their ranks will shrink to a 29 percent global share by 2030, that is still a large number, and 2030 is still a long way off. Therefore, catering to the needs of the talk-and-text-only user should remain an important priority for MNOs now and in the future.
Not only are traditional mobile services far from dead, they are the only services for a large enough cohort of users that operators must tailor plans to them and maintain services for them—including methods for accessing popular content such as Facebook without a data connection—even as they encourage them to upgrade to data.