Mobile Phone Users Setting Up Online Communities

Mobile phone users in emerging markets are setting up online communities that are similar to those built on the Internet. Users can play virtual games, communicate, blog and even conduct business transactions in these communities, says Finnish 3G strategist Tomi Ahonen.

Ahonen says while an estimated 10% of Americans are traditional bloggers, more than 30% of Koreans are already mobile bloggers. Mobile content is growing from being used as a way to personalize the phone, to a stage where users share communicate and share information to improve their lives, says Davin Mole, CEO of Exactmobile, a South African mobile content company.

Mole says his company, which previously saw itself as a mobile content provider, is growing its services to provide digital communities where people can mobile-blog, advertise their services or even meet potential partners.

SA ready for mobile digital communities

While most South African telecoms providers agree that the market is ready for more online participation, PC penetration levels are extremely low.

This provides an opportunitity for mobile handsets, which have a high penetration level to provide the kind of connectivity that PC’s would have. The readiness of SA consumers to form digital communities through mobile phones readiness is best demonstrated by the huge popularity of Mixit, a phone software application that allows Mixit users to communicate with other users on their mobile phones or PCs.

Less than two years after Mxit launched, it had close to three million subscribers, with numbers growing even faster. Most of the users are between 16-34 and from fairly affluent homes.
More than 70% of South Africans own mobile handsets , and the providers see the potential to penetrate the market even further. MTN, which also has operations in other African countries and the Middle East, says it expects up to 150% penetration levels.

The strong adoption is largely made possible by the fact that companies are willing to provide free/ultra-low cost handsets in return for consumers committing to long-term airtime usage contracts. However, the high costs of the actual phone calls has made the use of texting and sending rich multimedia messages very popular alternatives for consumers. As a result, South Africa mobile phone users have become very innovative with their handsets, and welcome new ways that allows them to stay connected without spending more money. Anohen says mobile phones can match what the Internet can do, and surpass it.

“The advantage that the mobile phone has over the Internet is that it is personal, always on and has a built-in payment mechanism, he says. It is also carried always, with 60% of mobile users taking their handsets to bed,” he says. The continuous, personal connectivity allows business to provide targeted messages that the user can instantly respond to, he says.