In South Africa data plans are still seen as an add-on to the mobile phone package which are currently  focused on making calls and sending text messages. With the explosion of smart devices this situation is about to radically change.

Telkom Mobile is  one of the first to offer a shared bucket of data and are moving fast to make data more central to cellular packages.

A recent study by Ericsson from their consumer labs research underlines how critical this will be to mobile networks, and to consumers, both in South Africa and worldwide.

In a report called Embracing Data Sharing, Ericsson ConsumerLab has taken a look at shared data plans and how the introduction of such plans has impacted consumer behaviour, as well as triggers and barriers to their adoption.

The research highlighted that smartphone users are most keen to see high data allowances in shared data plans, but unlimited voice and text messaging are also sought after. However, 20 percent of existing shared plan users have already started to look beyond these services and expect new capabilities – such as linking their fixed broadband data allowances to such plans – and free access to exclusive movie and TV content to be bundled in.

One of the most important conclusions from the report is that future shared data plan users will be very different from those of today, and that this will place new demands on operators.

Jasmeet Singh Sethi, Senior Advisor at Ericsson ConsumerLab, says: “We found that about one quarter of smartphone users currently on shared data plans are ‘power users’, who consume large amounts of mobile data.”

“In the future, this proportion is expected to rise by 42 percent, which would equal 40 percent of all shared plan users across the six markets that we studied: Brazil, India, Japan, South Korea, the UK and the US.”

Ericsson ConsumerLab found that consumers have several expectations of their shared data plans. They want: 

  • Clear understanding of the cost involved.
  • A simple and streamlined offering that remains unchanged, even in the event of  promotions.
  • Real-time transparency and plan management to enhance the value of such plans by extending to new connected devices like wearables.
  • Better app coverage (for heavy users).

Consumers are finding it hard to decipher the shared plans and need real-time transparency – 46 percent are discontented when it comes to understanding price plan options and billing, while two out of five are dissatisfied with the ability to track, modify and monitor their usage.

In the markets surveyed, a typical smartphone user household has at least six digital devices: three internet users; two mobile internet subscriptions; and an additional connectivity option such as fixed broadband. This results in multiple bills and data plans. This situation is starting to play out in South Africa as well.

“The growing number of options available is creating a high level of complexity in managing multiple subscriptions,” Singh Sethi says. “Consumers think shared data offerings can help solve this digital connectivity conundrum.”

When it comes to the adoption of shared data plans, there is great variation between the markets studied. In the US, for example, 26 percent of smartphone users surveyed are on such plans, while the corresponding figure for India and Brazil is only 5 percent.

It is clear that this wave of connectivity fuelled by data will continue to grow. Expect South African operators to respond with much more flexible, and larger, data based plans for both post and pre paid subscribers.

Steven Ambrose CA (SA)


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