Conference to explore wireless future

Mobile telecommunications research

Mobile phones may have been the fastest growing technology ever seen in South Africa, yet more than 10 years after the cellular revolution began, full mobile commerce has not touched the lives of most cellular phone users.A new study of mobile commerce – the use of phones for transactions with financial value – has found that while specific industry sectors have taken to it in huge volumes, to the tune of more than R2-billion in 2004, consumer mobile commerce as a mature industry is still three to five years away.

Mobile Commerce in South Africa 2005“, part of the Mobility 2005 research project undertaken by World Wide Worx, with the backing of Cell C, First National Bank, Sentech and the Mobile Institute, has found that consumers have not  yet moved beyond paying for ring tones and logos with phone airtime, and using their cellular phones to buy additional airtime. The only serious category of business usage of mobile commerce has been in airtime top-ups. While businesses have been using mobile technology for logistics and inventory management for more than a decade, this has not relied on the cellular phone.

Despite such limited use, however, mobile commerce has been growing quietly in South Africa for the past five years, with the market passing the R2-billion mark in transactions in 2004, from as low as R50-million in 2000.

“This sounds impressive, but it is limited to so few categories of spending, most cellphone users are not even aware of its existence,” says Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx. “Even where they are making a direct purchase in exchanging airtime for a logo or ring tone, they don’t realise the transaction has financial value.”

The study found that such perceptions will change significantly over the next three years as mobile banking becomes more widespread, and as more and more merchants begin accepting payments via mobile devices.

“Market maturity is at least three years away, with full-blown mobile commerce across numerous categories, from event and travel tickets to paying for fines and parking, only likely to be fully mainstream by 2010,” says Goldstuck.

Several case studies contained in the report reveal that the market is still dominated by early players who have been around for more than five years, such as Cointel, ExactMobile and iTouch. However, scrutiny of the market shows that numerous other mobile commerce players are poised to make an impact on the market.

These case studies and possibilities will be among the findings explored at the Mobility 2005 conference, which will take place at the FNB Conference Centre in Sandton on 8 and 9 June. A range of speakers will present findings on the future of mobile and wireless communications in South Africa and the rest of Africa, the legal issues facing mobile networks, the reality behind 3G and new services and applications made possible by mobile technology.

The conference will also see the release of the results of the consumer phase of the Mobility 2005 project, which explores the impact of cellular phones on the lives of ordinary South Africans.

Visit our Mobility website for more information on the Mobility 2005 research project as well as the conference.

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