Vast Majority Of UK Users Shun Mobile Data Services
By Carlo Longino, Mon May 23 19:30:00 GMT 2005

A new survey says 77% of UK mobile users have never used data services like MMS and ringtone downloads. Perhaps even more problematic is that just 12% of people say they're completely satisfied with the services.

It's not too surprising that these results come from a study commissioned by a company that provides mobile data support services, but they certainly aren't unbelievable, and read like a laundry list of conventional wisdom about mobile services: 77% of the 800 users aged 15 to over 65 said they "have never used any new data services such as picture and video messaging or gaming and ringtone downloads and a mere 12% of actual mobile data users profess to be completely satisfied with the service."

Nearly half of the users surveyed said they'd tried to use mobile data services, but gave up when they just didn't work. In, turn, 43% of these users were more likely to tell friends about the poor experience, compared to just 27% that would tell the operator.

The CEO of Olista, the company that sponsored the research, points out how operators have responded by simply trying to make up in quantity what they're lacking in quality: "They have reacted to the poor take-up off mobile data services by simply rolling out more, on the basis that if you throw enough out there something will stick."

While there is a need for operators to offer content users find compelling, the fact remains that usability is of the utmost importance. It doesn't matter how cool some content or service is, if people can't use it. This message simply won't go away or fade in importance, even if operators' content offerings become better aligned with consumer desires.

There is a pretty big positive message underneath the damning statistics, though: current mobile data and content revenues are based on a small market that's got plenty of room for growth. For most UK operators, data revenues represent 20% or less of their total service revenues, with the vast majority of that coming just from SMS. Ringtones were a multi-billion-dollar business last year; mobile games downloads were estimated to be worth nearly 450 million euros in 2004. So if those revenues come from a small subset of users -- those that decided to use the services in the first place, then the smaller number of those that were actually able to do so -- maybe some of those outlandish research predictions aren't so unrealistic after all.

But that's only if -- and it's a big if -- operators can make major headway on usability.