CTIA: Mobile Data Use Up, But Voice Remains King - InformationWeek

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CTIA: Mobile Data Use Up, But Voice Remains King

Data service revenue in 2007 rose to more than $23 billion from $15.2 billion in 2006.

Revenue from wireless data services grew 53% last year, according to an industry group. But analysts say voice services continue to top consumers' list of reasons for choosing a wireless service provider.

A U.S. industry survey released Tuesday by CTIA at the association's wireless conference in Las Vegas found that data service revenue in 2007 rose to more than $23 billion from $15.2 billion in 2006. Revenue from e-mail, text messaging, sending pictures, and other nonvoice services amounted to 17% of all wireless revenue.

Nevertheless, an ABI Research survey of wireless subscribers in seven countries with mature mobile phone markets found that quality, coverage, and price of voice services remained the No. 1 reason for choosing a carrier. "It's still a voice-centric world," Clint Wheelock, chief research officer for ABI, told a session at the conference.

In general, the ABI January survey in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan found that the "must-have" features in a mobile phone besides voice included a camera, Bluetooth wireless connectivity for peripherals, and music capabilities.

Consumers' "wish list" of features that haven't yet garnered a lot of usage in the market included Internet access, e-mail, and GPS and personal navigation capabilities, ABI analysts said. "Dud" features, which were those consumers showed little interest in, were games and watching video and TV.

Barriers to adoption of the dud features included a lack of mobile phones supporting those services, poor quality, and high prices. Adoption of those features, however, could increase in the future, depending on whether the industry addressed the problems, ABI said.

Some of the most-talked-about features for the near future were completely off consumers' radar. Those included open networks to boost the number of services and applications, social networking, marketing and advertising, and bill payments, ABI said.

The CTIA survey found more than 255 million wireless users in the United States last year, an increase of more than 22 million over 2006. The industry's 12-month record for subscriber growth was in 2005, when the industry added 25.7 million new users, CTIA said.

ABI made several predictions for the mobile market, including the proliferation of plans offering unlimited service for one monthly fee. Sprint, for example, recently introduced a plan that included unlimited voice and data services for $99 a month. "The all-you-can-eat wireless data plan will be here sooner than you think," analyst Dan Shey said.

In addition, Shey predicted that laptop computers would one day become "dumb terminals," and the smartphone would hold all the computing power and content.

ABI also said that GPS and personal navigation features in phones would eventually take social networking to a "new dimension." Companies that were ahead of the pack in combining personal navigation and social networking included Nokia, Verizon Wireless, and TomTom, a maker of navigation devices. Companies that were potential future leaders included Google, Microsoft, and TomTom rival Garmin.

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