Here’s a minor milestone in a trend I think we all recognize: according to the latest consumer survey by U.K. price comparison site uSwitch, for the first time data allowance size is the top priority for those scouting out a new mobile contract in that country.
Voice minutes were previously the primary concern, but in a survey of 1,649 people this month uSwitch found 43 percent citing data as the most important factor, versus 41 percent for voice minutes and 17 percent for text allowances. Forty-seven percent of those surveyed said voice minutes were the top factor the last time they got a mobile contract, versus 35 percent for data and 18 percent for SMS.
Worryingly for mobile operators, 26 percent of respondents said they chat for less than half an hour each month on their handset. Only 11 percent said they have opted for unlimited minutes on their tariff. Twenty-three percent said they surf the web on their phone for more than five hours a month, while just nine percent engaged in voice calls for the same amount of time.
Carriers around the world have been experiencing falling voice and SMS revenues for years now, and analyst Chetan Sharma predicted in March that data revenues would overtake voice revenues in the U.S. for the first time this year. We also saw chat apps overtake text messages by volume in April this year.
This is why we’re seeing operators scramble to find new revenue streams: data is highly commoditized and they desperately want to avoid becoming so-called “dumb pipes.” The fear there is that people will ultimately just want some sort of data plan and nothing more. Personally I don’t think the battle is lost just yet – carriers are waking up to the fact that they can exploit things like identity and billing convenience in order to carve out their own niche in this datacentric world — but it certainly isn’t going in the operators’ favor right now.
“As much as we love them, it can now be more convenient — not to mention cost-effective — to use technology such as Skype, email and instant messaging services like WhatsApp, particularly if people make the most of free Wi-Fi where available,” uSwitch’s Ernest Doku noted in a statement.