Multi-function wireless devices fail to entice users

A study by TNS Canadian Facts said the emergence of more multi-function wireless devices on the market has enticed few Canadians using the Internet to buy them.

According to the Toronto-based research firm’s High Speed and

Wireless Technologies study, ownership of cell phones among online Canadians has not grown over the past three years. It said fewer than six in 10 online Canadians have a cell phone and most of those who do not own one are uninterested in getting one.

Yet some telecom consultants dispute the finding. Roberta Fox, president and senior partner of Fox Group Consulting in Markham, Ont., said the mobile units of Rogers and Bell Canada have recently reported continued increases in their subscriber base. “”I would question that there is not growth opportunities for cell phones in Canada,”” she said.

Meanwhile, those with a cell phone showed little interest in giving up their home landline and going wireless, the study said. Although the likelihood of going wireless is slightly higher than in 2001, almost three in four are unlikely to give up their landline phone.

Richard Jenkins, Ottawa-based corporate director of public opinion research for TNS Canadian Facts, can see cost advantages of having only one phone line, but also potential problems with call quality or with several people in a household battling over access to the line while away from home.

Noting Canadians’ traditional attitudes, Fox said it’s likely they would be unwilling to give up fixed-line phones unless they were part of the under-25 crowd. “”I think things like last year’s power outage (in Ontario) sort of reinforced why your good old analog phone is not such a bad thing, because it doesn’t need power to run.””

Moreover, in 2003, TNS Canadian Facts noted a modest increase in the number of online Canadians who have Web-enabled cell phones —— a rise from eight per cent to 12 per cent. But usage of these phones has not increased in 2004, and there are more people who are not even interested in this service. A majority, or 64 per cent of those with a Web-enabled cell phone, are light users.

In contrast, the survey reported, one in four Canadian Internet users use text messaging and a third of those who text message report heavy use. Text messaging is being driven mostly by communications with friends and family.

As well, although few online Canadians, or three per cent, have adopted still camera phones, 33 per cent of Internet users are interested in this technology, TNS Canadian Facts noted. There is also some interest in wireless-enabled PDA phones, with four per cent using one already and 20 per cent interested in doing so.

“”The youngest Canadians are looking at this and saying, ‘That would be cool. I’d be interested in having a phone in my camera.’ But I don’t think that Canadians as a whole have moved to a place where they see a phone as anything but a phone,”” said Jenkins.

Because it’s more expensive to equip cell phones with cameras — maybe in the order of $50. “”There’s only a small market out there for people who are willing to pay that extra cost,”” said Jenkins. If you’re being asked to fork out “”extra money for a feature that you don’t have any intention of using…then it is a lot of money.

“”You might have thought with all the advertising, the ability of people to see camera phones out there on the marketplace would have produced increased interest even if it hadn’t yet moved people to purchase.””

Still, despite their efforts, said Jenkins, phone manufacturers are not doing enough to educate consumers about their latest products. He said it may be partly because they haven’t figured out whether Canadians see adding these features as worthwhile.

To compare the evolution of attitudes towards camera phones and other technologies, however, Canadians accustomed to using the Internet for research and e-mail would have thought it was “”silly”” to download songs during the early days of the medium, Jenkins noted. “”Now that’s less true.””

Partly due to costs, TNS Canadian Facts didn’t ask Canadian Internet users the reasons for their answers. But the research firm said early technology adopters have historically been young (18 to 34), male and more affluent.

High Speed Internet and Wireless Technologies is part of TNS Canadian Facts’ State-of-the-Net series of studies.  For the study, a survey was conducted using the firm’s national weekly Internet omnibus Service, TNS Express Online, which drew on the opinions of 70,000 Canadian Internet users.

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