This has emerged from the Mobile Internet in South Africa 2010 study, conducted by specialist technology research agency World Wide Worx and backed by First National Bank.
“It is clear that the cellphone has the potential to take South Africans across the digital divide," said Arthur Goldstuck, the MD of World Wide Worx.
The study was conducted face to face among urban cellphone users aged 16 and older, representing 16-million South Africans.
The report, released today, shows that the use of specific applications such as Mxit and Facebook Mobile far outpace browsing on the phone, even though both are available on almost two-thirds of the phones used by South Africa’s urban cellular users.
While 28% of the urban cellular market is using mobile instant messaging (IM), as many as 65% have the capacity on their phones, meaning that only 4.5-million out of 10.5-million potential mobile IM users actually use it. In many cases, an application has been installed on the phone, and the owner may even have registered to use the service, but is not in fact a user.
And, while 60% of users in this market have phones that can browse the internet, only 21% report that they use this form of mobile internet access.
“It is quite startling to find how many have these features on their phones but don’t use them, either out of ignorance or because of cost concerns,” said Goldstuck.
The findings suggest, on the surface, that more than half of urban cellular users – 8.5-million – are capable of accessing e-mail on their phones, and as many as 60% – 9.5-million – are able to browse on their phones.
The implications of these numbers are significant: in one fell swoop, they would turn the South African internet user base from the 5.3-million reported by World Wide Worx at the end of 2009 to 9.6-million. Add IM to the mix, and the total becomes 10.56-million – exactly double that of the internet user base at the end of last year.
“The truth is, many people with these applications on their phones do no use them and do not even know how to use them,” said Goldstuck. “The phones themselves need to become more user-friendly, and a vast amount of consumer education is needed.”
Ravesh Ramlakan, CEO of FNB Cellphone Banking Solutions, said that while the overall cellphone banking service has grown more rapidly than online banking, the adoption of First National Bank's mobile banking WAP site has been relatively slow.
"Customers either do not know how to access it via their cellphone, or their phone needs to be configured first in order to access," he said.
"However, with technology lifecycles, the adoption to internet banking via the cellphone will feature more prominently in future."