New UMTS Forum research explores our relationship with the mobile phone and makes recommendations to industry for effective marketing of new UMTS services and products
The UMTS Forum today publishes a new industry report entitled 'Social Shaping of UMTS - Preparing the 3G Customer'. Commissioned by the UMTS Forum, the report is based on empirical research conducted by the Digital World Research Centre, University of Surrey, and is intended to help UMTS Forum members with the planning and development of their 3G offerings. Based on dialogue with business users and consumers across several European countries and verified by senior industry players, the study also provides recommendations for effective strategies for shaping customer expectations.
The study reveals that mobile phones do not widen a person's social connectivity, but instead drive more frequent and intensive relations with existing contacts - colleagues, family and friends. Furthermore, the primary value of the mobile phone is perceived to be for 'functional' activities, for example talk and texting. Importantly relationships with business clients over the mobile were found to be minimal (mostly talk-based) - especially when compared to communication with business colleagues. The existence of tiered professional relationships can explain this trend. For example, calling a client on his or her landline is perceived by the caller as non intrusive because it represents business related access. In contrast, calling a client on their mobile could result in the caller invading their client's private life.
The research also indicates that 'person-to-information' communications (similar to use of the web) does not carry the same emotional value as 'person-to-person' communications by phone. The key implication of this for UMTS is that GSM technology has been shaped to satisfy the need for 'personal telephony' rather than 'mobile telephony'. Nonetheless, there will be significant opportunity for expanding and enriching the experience of personal communications (such as through imaging).
In addition, the study suggests that people have a more 'emotional' relationship with their mobile phone than they do with other forms of computational device, for example a PC or PDA. There is a distinct emotional attachment to the information contained on and delivered via their mobile phone. Mobile phones are increasingly becoming the only place people store their social and family phone numbers and diary dates. Consequently, the potential loss can cause anguish to owners. Indeed most of the people surveyed used emotional language categories to explain their mobile usage: these categories include panic, need, desire, anxiety, etc.
Based on the research findings it is probable that imaging applications will find wide acceptance if they encourage users to develop a form of use that is analogous to texting, for example 'pictures for play'. If the shaping of consumer expectations is done effectively a considerable market can emerge for imaging. However, the implications for video telephony are that it will generate considerable resistance unless radical improvements in the MMI (man machine interface) and the form factor of hand-held devices is achieved which allow much more flexible management of the social etiquette i.e. the acceptability of use of picture taking in public places.
Overall the research demonstrates that mobile phones have become incredibly valuable in modern society. But using emotional attachment to maximise the potential of UMTS products and services is challenging because it demands a level of understanding of customers - existing and potential - that is not normally known. More particularly, it demands knowledge of the purpose of the user's communications and how those purposes deliver the emotional value that is so important to them. In addition to understanding the basic relationship the customer has with their mobile phone, providers must recognise the need for wider social conditioning of new UMTS services and products, for example etiquette shaping and cultural sensitivity.
Jean-Pierre Bienaim, chairman of the UMTS Forum, said: "Social Shaping provides an understanding of what people might or might not expect from existing and new technology. It adds richness to every layer of a 3G provider's technology development and marketing processes and should be incorporated into all 3G service provision roadmaps. Operators, equipment vendors and content providers alike should use it to assist decision making in the launch process and to help design improvements to 3G technology."
Jane Vincent, Research Fellow at the Digital World Research Centre comments on the study: "It is clear from our results that providers must balance their enthusiasm for 3G services with a new understanding of how the market might react to them. A good way to do this is to persuade people to experience the new services by understanding and leveraging their needs and desires. Ignore the overwhelming desire for social connectivity in favour of an anonymous world of data and megabits and new products and services are unlikely to survive beyond launch."
The research, which was conducted in three phases, aimed to identify the key social drivers for the development and success of GSM that may be applicable to the introduction of UMTS technology. It also sought to provide a deeper understanding of a subset of themes that were identified as key to the 'Social Shaping of 3G', and the implications that these drivers would have for UMTS services and products. The final stage of the study involved presenting those implications to key industry players to test for their accuracy and relevance.
UMTS Forum Report 'Social Shaping of UMTS - Preparing the 3G Customer' is available to members only in the members area of the web site.