Although today only a tiny fraction of people use it, and even fewer shop on it, the mobile Internet still has substantial appeal among users of wireless devices, according to a study by Accenture, formerly known as Andersen Consulting.
While use of the wireless Web varied widely among users surveyed in the U.S., U.K., Finland, Germany and Japan -- with the highest usage in Japan and the lowest in Finland and the U.S. -- users in all five countries overwhelmingly view wired PC connections as the most viable option at present for accessing the Internet. In fact, the study found only 15 percent of the more than 3,100 respondents access the Internet through a wireless device, and on average, less than one percent use it to make purchases. On a country-by-country basis, the U.S. had the highest incidence of wireless purchasing, with 12 percent of wireless web users actually making a purchase online compared to 9 percent in Germany, 7 percent in Japan, 6 percent in the U.K. and 5 percent in Finland.
The vast majority of those surveyed are not using the wireless Web, because they believe it costs too much, screens are too difficult to read and the service is too slow. In the U.S., U.K, and Finland, more than 50 percent of the respondents reported the main reason for not accessing the Internet through their wireless devices was that they simply saw "no compelling reason to do so."
Despite these limitations, however, the study showed roughly 40 percent of respondents in the U.S. and Europe still find the concept of the mobile Internet either "somewhat appealing" or "very appealing," while fewer than 20 percent of the respondents considered it to be "unappealing." And in Japan, where 81 percent of respondents said they access the Internet through a wireless device, fully two-thirds of respondents are attracted by the prospect of a mobile Internet.
The survey also found people who use the wireless Internet are more likely to use it for e-mail, text messaging and receiving news headlines. When asked what types of location-specific services, products or information they would like to receive on their wireless devices, respondents across the five countries generally zeroed in on weather, restaurant, local community and travel information, as well as e-mail and news headlines.
"This study shows that while people may not want to browse the Web extensively on their wireless device, they do want the 'anytime, anywhere' access to information and options for purchasing available through the mobile Internet," said Richard Siber, partner, communications and high tech, Accenture. "And the booming growth rate of subscribers for Japan's I-mode cellular service indicates there is a potentially huge market for mobile Internet access."
Mr. Siber continued, "Our survey indicates that people across the globe can see the great potential of mobile commerce. However, because of current device and access limitations -- including screen size, and slow transmission speeds -- widespread Web surfing and shopping on mobile devices has yet to arrive."
The study also found that a surprisingly small percentage of wireless device users are concerned with privacy issues when using a wireless device to connect to the Internet. In the U.S and Japan, only 25 percent of respondents voiced concern about privacy when surfing the wireless Web, while fewer than 13 percent in each of the European countries had privacy concerns.
"Clearly, privacy is not a major impediment to development of the mobile Internet," said John Beck, associate partner, Accenture's Institute for Strategic Change. "The primary concerns we hear from users have to do with the technological limitations of the devices and services now on the market."
Although the U.S. leads in wired Internet connectivity, the Accenture study suggests that Americans are at least two to three years behind the Japanese and Europeans in overall wireless communications technologies, specifically in cell phone usage. For example, nearly three quarters of Finns and more than half the population in Japan own mobile phones compared to only one-third of the U.S. population. Given the widespread diffusion of wireless communications services in Japan and Europe, it is likely that companies in these markets will be the first to integrate customizable, location-specific capabilities into mobile connectivity, thus maintaining their first mover advantage over U.S. companies for the foreseeable future.
Industry experts predict that in the next five years more than 130 million customers will spend approximately $200 billion on mCommerce transactions producing revenues in excess of $22 billion.
"Our findings demonstrate that interest in mCommerce is high in every region of the world," said Mr. Siber. "Given these high industry growth predictions for mCommerce, Accenture believes that while email, stock quotes and weather updates will continue to be popular activities we expect consumers will also start using their wireless devices to make purchases as the equipment and networks evolve."
Unlike their U.S. counterparts, Japanese and European wireless device users are already engaging in a variety of wireless online activities -- mainly personal email and text messaging -- and are taking advantage of the conveniences brought by the mobile Internet. For example, European wireless device users send more than one billion short text messages per month, and 72 percent of Japanese cell phone owners use the device to connect to the Internet compared to only 6 percent in the U.S. Although email and text messaging are currently the most popular uses of the mobile Internet, the study found that nearly half of all respondents are intrigued by the potential of future mCommerce services, such as flight information updates, finding the nearest location for products, comparison shopping, and location-specific services.
Accenture's study found that a clear majority of wireless device owners view having access to information from any location, at any time is a primary benefit of the wireless Web.
"Once the mobile communications network is fully developed and service providers begin offering consumers the ability to perform short transactions more effectively, mCommerce will be widely embraced," said Mr. Siber. "We believe that the secret formula for driving wireless adoption, and in turn mCommerce, is creating 'killer' applications that allow users access to the information they want, anytime and anywhere. This study tells us that millions of users around the world are ready to make the leap to the next era of Internet communications and commerce."
The survey, fielded by Accenture in fourth quarter 2000, was conducted among 3,189 residents in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Finland and Japan. Qualified respondents were 18 years of age and categorized as owning some type of wireless device like a cell phone, two-way text pager or wireless PDA. The survey was conducted entirely online.