Wednesday, 16 November 2005 11:00

VoIP slow to attract Australian customers


52% of Australia's mobile phone customers expect to make most of their calls by mobile rather than landline next year, but VoIP take-up has been slow, according to the 2005 A.T. Kearney Mobinet study.

Mobinet, a study of 4000 mobile phone users in 21 countries, has been conducted for the past five years by global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney and Cambridge University's Judge Institute of Management.

The leader of A.T. Kearney's Australian telecommunications practice, Mark Higgins, said Australians' willingness to adopt attractive new mobile phone services will help establish new revenue streams for mobiles operators.

'The proportion of Australian mobile users with multimedia phones (capable of browsing mobile websites or accessing email) has reached 55%, paving the way for a stronger market for messaging and entertainment services. And growth rates for built-in cameras have more than doubled (156% growth here, against 71% globally),' Mr Higgins said.

Despite some early hype, cheap calls using the internet (Voice over Internet Protocol, such as Skype) are not yet an attractive everyday proposition for most customers - only 2% of Australian consumers in 2005 expected to use it for the majority of their calls.

Mobinet 2005 highlights that consumers are attracted to converged fixed-mobile voice offerings, such as British Telecom's Fusion product in the UK. Prospects look promising: 50% of Australian mobile phone users are already attracted to features such as one phone number for both at home and on the move.

Mobile users are also expressing preferences about the way they want to pay for their services. 53% of mobile users in Australia prefer bundled mobile packages with free minute and SMS bundles, confirming the current Australian operator pricing strategies.

Consumer preferences for different payment options may be converging more broadly across telephony services including mobile, fixed line and broadband, suggesting that there may be a compelling pull from consumers for a converged mobile-fixed-broadband offering. 'Consumer adoption of broadband and cable may be the driver, where consumer expectations are set by an 'all-you-can-eat' fixed rate model,' Mr Higgins said.

'Mobile data usage tends to be higher among broadband users: broadband may be a complementary product and create an attractive future converged package. How to turn fixed-mobile converged offerings into reality is the challenge for Australian operators in order to meet customer expectations and drive revenue growth.'

Data communication services are nearing mass penetration, with 30% of multimedia phone users in Australia regularly downloading and sending pictures, photos or video.

'We are seeing huge growth and customer acceptance of mobile internet and email usage globally, particularly in the 19-24 age group,' Higgins said.

'Current SMS penetration amongst multimedia phone users in Australia is 87% - as a benchmark of the possible level of penetration, this means advanced messaging products such as mobile email (13%) and MMS (29%) have plenty of room to grow.'

He said meaningful revenue streams for data communication services are still some way off. Operators must overcome barriers such as content quality, cost and security issues to encourage repeat usage. They must create tailored packages of services at prices that will both meet consumer expectations and stimulate more substantial revenue.

Australia still trails the global average of 33% penetration of mobile entertainment services. However, music entertainment is starting to take off, used by 25% of multimedia phone customers, and healthy levels of repeat usage are emerging.

Gaming in Australia is still far behind the global level, with only 11% of multimedia phone users downloading games at least once a month.

Only 9% of Australians (the second lowest globally) were willing to pay to watch TV broadcast via mobile. Consumers want operators and broadcasters to focus on user preference (i.e. news and sports, not entertainment) for time-sensitive TV content.

Other key results of Mobinet 2005 include:

60% of Australian users own mobile handsets less than a year old, highlighting that operators and vendors are successfully pushing new models.

45% continue to have concerns about the cost of data services, and increasingly about the quality of content available. Given that more than 50% of consumers do not want to pay more than US$5 a month for non-voice services, operators still need to work to bring pricing of data services in line with consumer expectations.

45% of Australians with multimedia mobiles used them to access the Internet or check e-mail at least once a month - a significant jump from 30% in 2004.

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Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 35 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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