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Cellphone access makes Internet truly mobile

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While consumers have had access to the Internet via their cellphones for a number of years now, it has generally been a frustrating experience for them. This is because consumers generally accessed web sites customised for PC viewing from their cellphones, which have small screens.
And while WAP sites are customised for mobile viewing, WAP site penetration has been low which means options for WAP site surfing has been limited.

Riaan Groenewald, Multimedia Solutions Operations Director, says there is an upswing coming in mobile internet usage after the launch of the DotMobi (mobi) domain last year.
“The mobi domain was launched in October last year launched for cellphones and has seen more than 600 000 registered domain names since its inception,” he says.
While a mobi domain is similar to the co.za, .com and .org domains, the intention behind their creation was to have customised websites for optimal viewing on a cellphone. A mobi site can also be viewed on a PC web browser.
Comparing the cellphone market to the Internet markets globally, there are close to 2,5-billion active cellphones compared to around 900-million Internet users, Groenewald says.
Gartner estimated that 986-million cellphones were sold in 2006, while the IDC puts PC sales at 300-million in 2009.
Locally, Groenewald says the three cellphone networks together claim to have a combined base of over 36-million subscribers; there are an estimated 24,5-million adult TV viewers in South Africa, and over 28,5-million radio listeners; with PCs and landlines coming in around the 5-million mark.
“What this reveals is that from an infrastructure point of view, the cellphone is now far better positioned as a means for consumers to access information than PCs, TVs or Radios,” he says.
Multimedia Solutions research for a local retailer for the development of a mobi website found that 65% of people surveyed did not access the Internet from their cellphones and did not know what a mobi website was, Groenewald says.
“However once they understood what a mobi website was and that they could access it from their phones, this figure turned around with 65% of people saying they would use the mobi website of the retailer once it was launched,” he says.
Furthermore, international research from Point Topic and YouGov indicates that while current usage of mobile phones accessing the Internet is dominated by work-related applications, new users are much more interested in entertainment and keeping in touch with their friends.
Groenewald says the mobi website offers that opportunity for consumers to access websites for more than just work. Sites like Facebook are driving this awareness with thousands of South Africans beginning to log onto Facebook from the mobile optimised Facebook site.
Tim Johnson, chief analyst at Point Topic, says that the mobile Internet is crossing the gap between the early adopters and the pragmatic “early majority” customers, who want convenience and practical solutions on their handsets.
“Our survey shows there is a big potential market out there, but the vendors and operators need a new approach to take advantage of it,” he says.
Furthermore, Point Topic research shows that while 57% of mobile internet users today are under 35 years old, the range of people who say they are interested in using mobile internet in future is much more evenly spread by gender, age group, social group and income.
Groenewald says the first advantage of having mobi sites is that they tap into a much larger market than the PC market, so access to information is improved. Secondly, mobi websites are generally optimised for the cellphone, they offer a far faster download time (even over GPRS) than most large websites offer even at broadband speeds.
And, unlike a mobizine which needs to be downloaded as an application on to a Java-enabled cellphone, mobi sites just need a cellphone web browser and the network GPRS settings.
“Mobi websites also allow companies to offer services to clients because they are interactive like a normal website. Orders can be placed from mobi websites and information can be retrieved by the consumer.”
Groenewald says South Africa is at the forefront of development on mobi sites and some locally developed sites are taking it even further, giving consumers the ability to initiate purchasing decisions through a mobi site. This will soon be extended to services like tracking packages, account balances and e-commerce.
“Given the PC and ADSL penetration into the market, it makes sense for South African companies to begin offering sites customised for the cellphone,” he says.