Paul M. Banas on Consumer Insights, Marketing Research, and the Digital Media Landscape
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Are Cell Phones Ready For The Mobile Internet Boom? (Part 1)

This is the first in a series of posts on the potential of the mobile internet, and how cell phones and their networks need to lever market research and consumer insights to fully develop this new platform.

More than personal computers, cell phones are now the globally ubiquitous electronic device. There are not many inhabited places in the world where you can’t find someone chatting to someone else on a cell phone. As Joel Garreau from the Washington Post illustrates:

“From essentially zero, we’ve passed a watershed of more than 3.3 billion active cellphones on a planet of some 6.6 billion humans in about 26 years. This is the fastest global diffusion of any technology in human history — faster even than the polio vaccine.”

And in the US, as people are leaving their land lines behind, cell phone usage sophistication is finally catching up with Europe and the rest of the world.

In addition to having the value of a cell phone to users increasing significantly in the past 5 years, US consumers are finally crossing a tipping point that will lead to widespread adoption of elements from the mobile internet, such as web surfing or using dynamic GPS maps via their cell phones.

A couple of key insights and graphs from John Horrigan, associate director of research for the Pew Internet Project, illustrate this change:

  • The number of people who felt that it would be hard to give up their cell phone grew from 38% in 2002 to 51% in 2007.
  • “Even in 2006, the landline phone was still the most difficult device for people to do without,” said John Horrigan.


  • From the same study, we find that while daily usage is low for mobile data related activities, almost 60% of users have done one of these activities at least once.
  • Even mobile internet usage, which is hampered by sluggish networks in the US, has almost 20% penetration, with 7% of users using the mobile internet daily.


So if the interest is there, why are we still waiting for the full promise of the Mobile Internet? In short, there are three answers: the phones, the networks, and the lack of synergy between the two.

My next post will focus on why cell phones and networks aren’t delivering, and how good market research and consumer insights might just show them the way to unlocking the potential of the mobile internet.


1 robojiannis { 03.10.08 at 7:27 am }

I think we can see mobile internet in the horizon.
I’m waiting to see how will we utilize this opportunity.
Will we use mobile internet just to check our mail and surf or will we find new, innovative usages?

2 Paul M. Banas { 03.11.08 at 10:25 am }

My hope is for the more innovative usages. I especially am curious about how the mobile internet will interface with Social Networks on the Web. I think Twitter is one step in this area that is certainly gaining significant momentum.

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