Arab mobile internet potential remains untapped

A straw poll survey points to low adoption and awareness of advanced services: marketing is missing the mark according to subscribers.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  June 12, 2005

A survey of GSM subscribers carried out by Spot On Public Relations has highlighted a major untapped opportunity in the marketing of advanced mobile services by Middle East GSM operators. The surveys, carried out in two of the region’s key benchmark markets, the UAE and Jordan, found that public awareness, understanding and adoption of advanced mobile services such as mobile internet access and content based services is low, while subscribers are feeling confused by the complexity of such services. “There’s undoubtedly a disconnect here between mobile subscribers and service providers and it would appear to be related to the way that services such as these are being communicated to subscribers. There’s a school of thought that says mobile operators in the region need to think like IT companies in their marketing of these services, rather than talk like IT companies,” says Alexander McNabb, group account director at Spot On Public Relations. “The opportunities for operators are huge, not just in revenue terms, but in differentiating themselves in the region’s increasingly competitive markets.” The surveys, interviews carried out among 50 randomly selected members of the public in the UAE and 100 in Jordan, highlight the fact that although many more subscribers are using MMS (multi-media messaging service) services, few are aware of the potential for mobile internet access and content services. In both markets, over 70% of subscribers did not download content to their mobiles, preferring to use MMS to send and receive pictures on a ‘peer to peer’ basis. Some 54% of the subscribers surveyed in Jordan and 44% in the UAE used their camera phones to share pictures. Some 31% of the subscribers surveyed in Jordan viewed the mobile content available to them negatively, a figure that leapt to over 70% in the UAE. “A key concern is the future. If people are not buying internet and content access today, then you have to ask how adoption of broadband access services such as 3G can be built. The technology roadmap is clear, but subscribers appear not to be aware of just how they can use the mobile services being offered to them today, let alone in future,” says McNabb. Another area highlighted by the survey was the high awareness (58%) of 3G technologies in Jordan, a market without a working 3G network, compared with the UAE, where the national 3G network was launched over a year ago and where 62% were not aware of 3G. In both markets, over 60% of subscribers viewed adoption of 3G negatively and do not plan to buy a 3G telephone, with some 58% of respondents seeing 3G purely in terms of a videophone technology. “Most people in both markets had heard about 3G purely through word of mouth or personal research, which would tend to lead to the conclusion that there’s a marketing issue behind the reactions we saw in the survey,” says McNabb. Subscribers surveyed in both markets felt confused by the packages, technologies and facilities being offered to them by their operators. 74% of respondents in the UAE and 50% in Jordan found the services provided by their operator confusing, while 82% of respondents in the UAE and 47% of respondents in Jordan did not think that operators explain their services and benefits well to customers. “We do not see these as problems so much as opportunities. These are fundamentally communications issues that can be solved easily through the application of audience based communication, targeted awareness raising programmes and subscriber information campaigns. The long term benefits for operators, in terms of differentiating services and raising not only short term revenues but long term adoption are massive,” says McNabb. The results of the survey are being presented at the Arab Advisors Media and Telecoms Convergence Conference 2005, being held in Jordan under the Patronage of H.E Nadia Saeed, minister of information and communications technology. The conference, which was held for the first time last year, has attracted regional key players in the media and telecom industries.

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