71 per cent of business mobile customers use a smartphone
As a result of the explosion in the popularity of mobile devices, 71 per cent of business segment customers in Vodafone Malta’s market use a smartphone.
That is compared to 22 per cent of personal users, Vodafone’s acting head of enterprise and wholesale business Joseph Cuschieri explained in an interview.
“The smartphone penetration is increasing big time,” he said. “What customers ask for most is capability. They want speed, coverage, and good access for their applications, social media and e-mail. With the capability of today’s devices, the hunger is increasing. For example, news media have their own mobile app or the mobile version of their news website. Within the next five years or so, close to 70 per cent of our customer base will be using some sort of basic smartphone.”
The demand for more capable phones, more speed and more services on smartphone and tablets manifests itself quite clearly when some interesting new device is launched.
“What amazes me most is when we have a new device coming on stream like the iPhone 5 and customers just couldn’t wait,” Mr Cuschieri continued. “I was inundated with requests and had to face the anger of customers who wanted the device immediately. They want to have it first, and if they are not on the pre-booking list they insist on getting on it.”
Vodafone is Apple’s official communications partner in Malta.
The operator currently provides a mobile broadband speed of 21.6 Mbps nationwide and the rollout of faster 42.2Mbps access is moving ahead at a good pace. However, even faster speeds are in sight as Vodafone is planning the launch of long term evolution (LTE) or 4G mobile communication. It begs the question: are devices driving demand or is demand driving devices and technology?
Mr Cuschieri said the demand is driving the technology because users can enjoy their mobile devices’ capability only if the necessary speeds are available. There are very few devices available which are LTE-enabled but Mr Cuschieri believes that within a year they will be available.
“If people start buying them locally or from abroad and you don’t have an LTE network with much higher speeds and better performance, then people won’t get the best experience. Then, ultimately, if the competitors are investing in more speed and more bandwidth you need to keep up.”
Mobile internet access tariffs are significantly higher than fixed-line internet access at home or at the office. Vodafone’s top executive explained mobile broadband is more expensive because the technology is more expensive than fixed-line technology. Licences for the frequencies have to be acquired and the network has to be kept updated. Mobile broadband is more popular overseas where users tend to be frequent travellers. In Malta internet keys are not sold on the same levels as abroad because people are not too far away from home. Smartphone users who have a data bundle do not buy an additional internet key as an extra because it becomes too expensive.
Asked to indicate smartphone and operating systems preferences, Mr Cuschieri confirmed the popularity of the Apple iPhone and Android-based devices.
“Users still prefer the iPhone, particularly business customers. They are switching from Blackberry to iPhone; iPhone is still predominant, but Samsung is becoming the device of choice for Android users,” Mr Cuschieri pointed out. “When I tried the Windows Phone I liked it, particularly the e-mail experience which I think is better than Android.”
Vodafone has already announced a €59 million investment to upgrade its core network further. Apart from higher speeds, the investment will also upgrade systems that that interact directly with customers, especially online.
“Personally I am not happy with the level of progress we have made locally in terms of online self-care,” Mr Cuschieri said. “That is the strategy we are pursuing. What we need is an app that offers online customer service. That is where we want to go and we are building the foundations for it. We will improve our customer relationship management platform. That will give us the capability to serve customers more online and customers have both live agents and self-care options.”