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Japan 5 years ahead of Europe on mobile internet

Japan leads Europe by five years in mobile services according to research from analyst firm, Forrester.

According to the analyst, the gap could be closed by European operators if they focus on the needs of mobile users on the go and wean them off basic services such as SMS.

Forrester says 52 per cent of Japanese mobile consumers browse the mobile internet regularly, leaving their European counterparts in the dust with just 10 per cent using the service.

Niek van Veen, Forrester analyst and co-author of the report, ‘Why Japanese mobile internet is a success and What European operators should do to catch up,’  told Telecoms.com that Europeans have been nurtured for too long on simple out-of-the-box solutions. “Consumers in Europe are happy with their existing SMS service, they need to be encouraged to use more sophisticated tools.”

Van Veen explained that in Japan, operators have already moved far beyond basic browser-like services such as mobile email and mobile portals while Europeans are more inclined to rely on what they know: SMS and voice.

The report suggests that operators need to educate their customers  using retail and online channels. Forrester says 39 per cent of European mobile consumers that have never used the mobile internet don’t see any value in using it. It argues that product managers should work closely with sales and independent retailers – not just by offering them an optional one-day training course – to educate sales staff: Let them take home handsets for free trials to learn how they work and create word of mouth.  It also suggests bringing mobile internet experts in-store and using stores as education centres.

Van Veen says “this is historical because when operators in Japan began offering customers mobile email, European operators stuck with SMS. It’s what Europeans were exposed to at inception so it’s more difficult for them to think of alternatives.”

Van Veen also points to consumer fear when it comes to browsing the internet or using online mobile services. “If you are scared of getting a big bill, chances are you will be reluctant to use online services. Flat rate packages, where there are no surprises, is a very important factor in this.”

At the same time, another report from the Online Publishers Association – released in London last week – shows that use of the mobile internet is on the rise, along with acceptance of mobile advertising.

TNS Media and Entertainment surveyed 6,000 wireless users for its report to the Online Publishers Association and found that more than three-quarters of mobile users have access to the Web from their handsets. While the study found that only a third use it, 37 percent (Europe) said they would watch adverts in exchange for free wireless content.

However, Van Veen believes the secret to getting Europeans to use their mobile internet services will rely more on operator charges and education, than adverts that coax users for an immediate return. “Operators are now playing with flat rate fees,” says Van Veen. “Vodafone has an all-you-can-eat offering in Germany and 3 is leading the way with its X-Series… if they are serious they will move forward with this type of plan… because ARPU is still falling but they are still being very cautious.”


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