Study: Mobile Internet Necessity, Not Luxury

Like the cell phones that preceded them, mobile data services–in particular, mobile Internet–are becoming less a luxury and more a necessity among U.S. consumers. And the expanded use of those services (also including mobile email, multimedia messaging and photo uploading) could explode in the next two years.

According to a survey by Nielsen Company on behalf of Tellabs, 71% of U.S. consumers plan to use some sort of mobile data service daily (the company did not have current daily usage information). Among current mobile Internet users, 55% planned to increase their usage of mobile data services in the next two years, and 48% planned to increase their use over the next year. Among non-users, 29% planned to start during that same period.

“The mobile platform is becoming more and more a part of people’s lives,” said Jeff Herrmann, vice president of mobile media for Nielsen. “The primary use of these services is communication and convenience.”

For the most part, consumers are using mobile data for utilitarian reasons rather than entertainment, Herrmann said. According to the survey, 71% of current users are using data services to connect to the Internet, 61% are using them for email and 56% are using them for multimedia messaging services. Among non-users, nearly half (49%) said they anticipated using mobile Internet services, and 38% said they expected to use multimedia messaging. Thirty-four percent said they would use them to upload photos, and 28% said they planned to use mobile email.

“A big driver of the mobile media is social networking,” Herrmann said. “You get hooked. Once you start using it, you can’t move away from it.”

Because U.S. consumers view their mobile devices as something to help them with their daily lives rather than an entertainment extravagance, adoption of mobile data services will be less subject to the economic downturn as well. “Entertainment falls under ‘discretionary income,’” Herrmann said. “Convenience and utility are necessities.”

Consumers, however, are still wary of the costs for mobile data plans–as well as the speed, quality and reliability of the plans, according to the survey. As usage increases–particularly at the 71% rate predicted in the survey–telecommunications companies must be ready to meet the challenges, Herrmann said.

“The operators are going to have to build out their capacity to ensure a positive experience,” Herrmann said. “Today, we’re in a good position. But this is something to watch.”