March 20, 2002, 12:00 AM

Web-enabled cell phones are growing, but their Internet usage is not

A third of all cell phones worldwide have Internet access. But only 36% of owners of such phones have used them for Internet access, down from 57% last June. Only 1% say they intend to use cell phones for purchases, says the latest Mobinet study.

Retailers wanting to get to consumers on the go may have a long wait. The number of web-enable cell phones is growing but consumers aren’t using the web function.

Worldwide, a third of all cell phone owners have Internet access from cell phones, says the Mobinet study, a survey of global mobile phone use conducted twice annually by management consulting firm A.T. Kearney and the Judge Institute of Management, Cambridge University`s Business School. The worldwide penetration rate is 41% higher than in June. Web-enabled cell phones represent 23% of the U.S. base; 33% of Europe’s base, 67% of Japan’s and 29% of the rest of Asia’s.

However, the report says, the number of phone users accessing the Internet with their phones remained flat and consumers who want to shop online with cell phones is practically non-existent. With the exception of Japan, the large majority of Internet-enabled phone users have never used the wireless Internet capability on their mobile phones. In fact, as the rate of web-enabled cell phones increases, their use for Internet access goes down: 36% have used their cell phones for Internet access, down from 57% last June.

Even more discouraging to e-retailers seeking the m-market, cell phones users almost universally have no interest in using their phones to buy things. A meager 1% of respondents told researchers they intend to use their cell phones for purchases, down from 32% in June 2000.

"Contrary to early expectations, m-commerce is not an extension of e-commerce characterized by large volumes of Internet purchases using Internet-enabled mobile phones,” says researcher Chong Choi, a professor at Cambridge University. “It is becoming increasingly clear that m-commerce is more about multimedia messages and using the mobile phone to make payments."

Consumers do see value in wireless phones as commerce devices, as 44% say they would like to use their mobile phones for small cash transactions such as bus, taxi or train fares, or to buy items from vending machines. However, only 2% have done so.

Researchers say those results surprised them because the technology for such transactions is not widely known nor readily available worldwide.

The other great use that consumers like for their cell phones--apart from talking on them--is short-text messaging service, or texting. Texting is being used at least once a month by 80% of mobile phone users in some European countries to send short text-based messages via their phones And acceptance of texting has led to an explosion in short-text message advertising since the last Mobinet study in June 2001: 31% of respondents in 14 countries report they`ve received some sort of advertisement via their mobile phones. In the June 2001 Mobinet, only 1% reported receiving an SMS ad.

 

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