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Goldstuck on Gadgets

7 Ages of data

The Mobility 2012 research findings released last week uncovered the age divide in mobile data use in South Africa. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK drills down.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, broadband beauty is in the eye of the downloader. Or rather, the age of the beholder.

It turns out that, the older you are, the less data you use, and the younger you are, the less satisfied you are with data download speeds.

This is one of the more intriguing findings from our Mobility 2012 research project, conducted in June this year. The most important overall finding was that South African cellphone users are using more of their phone budget on data and less on voice than 18 months ago. At the end of 2010, data made up 8% of average spend on cellphones. At the end of June 2012, that had gone up by half, to 12%. Voice spending dropped from 77% of average phone budget to 73%.

Within those statistics, however, lurked a fascinating trend: the proportion of spend is directly related to age the younger the user, the higher the proportion. This doesn’t mean that younger users spend more Rands on data. In fact, it may well be less, as their overall spending on their cellphones is lower than for older users.

For example, those aged 16-18, on average, spend 17% of their phone budget on data, while those aged 46 and over spend only 11% – but of a much larger budget. For this reason, the networks have not yet felt the full effect of this trend in terms of declining voice revenues. But they are feeling the effect all the same.

In its recent annual results, Vodacom announced that voice revenues grew by less than 3% over the past year, while data revenue grew by a massive 28%.

The new findings, however, should be a wake up call to networks that they cannot treat all users the same, and have to start bundling, packaging and marketing voice and data services differently to different market segments.

In particular, they need to appreciate the differences between the 7 ages of data. It looks something like this, backed up with a few statistics from our research:

1. Infancy (under 12): Gimme games, gimme games. Oh wait, look, a new game! Gimme!

2. Teenager (12-15): Data costs nothing, because mom or dad pays for it. And I need it to chat with my friends, because they’re all on WhatsApp, Mxit and BBM.

3. The pre-adult (16-18): Data is what I do. Voice? Oh yeah, some people still expect that. 20% of phone spend is on data, 17% on SMS (any text is good text), only 58% on voice.

4. The young adult (19-24): 17% of phone spend is on data, but only 11% on SMS. You have to watch those student budgets in case of dating emergency, you know? 66% goes to voice.

5. The rising star (25-35): 14% of phone spend is on data. Why use my own if I can use the company’s? SMS gets 12% of my budget, and voice 72%.

6. Settling down (36-45): 11% of phone spend is on data, and most of it is my kids showing me how this app download thing works. 13% on SMS, because that’s the kind of messaging I know. 74% on voice, but it’s a big 74% because I have more disposable income than any of those data-hugger kids.

7. Past all that (46+): 6% of phone spend is on data, but that was by accident. Oh, you mean e-mail uses data? Oh well, then. And 11% on SMS, because I grew up with it. 81% on voice, because I don’t need my reading glasses to talk. But it’s my talking that keeps the networks’ voice departments in the money.

Of course, these are averages, so you do get the odd 18-year-old who doesn’t know how to optimize a WiFi access point, and you do get the occasional 60-year-old geek who is addicted to Angry Birds Space.

But in general, how old you are, how much you have to spend, and how you spend it will dictate what phone as well as what voice and data package is best for you. One size sure doesn’t fit all ages.

* For more on the Mpobility 2012 project, visit

* Follow Arthur Goldstuck on Twitter on @art2gee

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