Only 10 percent satisfied with JD's satisfaction report
JD Power's most recent yearly study for mobile user satisfaction in the U.K. unearthed an unlikely trend: For the first time in ten years, mobile voice usage in the U.K. is falling. The report found that the average number of calls made by pre-pay customers fell from 14 a week in 2006 to 10 in 2007, while postpaid users' average weekly calls fell from 35 in 2006 to 27 this year. JD Powers suggests that mobile users are opting to text message each other in the U.K. instead of calling: Postpaid users said they send 46 a week on average, up from 32 in 2006. Prepay users said they still send only 27 text message on average per week, the same as last year. JD Power and Associates conducted the study, which is now in its 10th year, by surveying more than 2,700 mobile users in the U.K.
The results are, at face value, somewhat digestible. I, for one, certainly call my friends less frequently than I text them. In fact, I believe I have a few friends who live near me that I've never called directly, only texted. Because of this personal experience, I won't be too harsh on JD Power and Associates for drawing such a poor conclusion from their study.
I'll let Iain Gillott of iGR cast the first stone: "A twenty-something percent drop in voice usage? That's a cliff! That's like saying 20 percent of the U.K. population woke up one day and said, 'I'm not going to make any voice calls today. I could understand if this study showed the voice usage has peaked over the last few years and now there's a one or two percent drop, but this kind of change is the equivalent of one of the U.K. networks going offline. Put it in context."
If you take a look at Vodafone U.K.'s voice usage last year, you'll find that from Q1 to Q4, voice minutes increased by 1 million. The exact figures show Q1 posting 7.145 million minutes and Q4 with 8.160 million minutes. That's about a 14 percent increase! Of course, Gillott pointed out that this could mean Vodafone simply increased its subscriber count during 2006 and the increased minutes were but a reflection of this growth. Alas, that would not explain it. All said, Vodafone U.K. posted about 3 percent net subscriber growth in 2006, so that still leaves 11 percent growth for voice usage.
That's just Vodafone, though. Couldn't the other U.K. carriers have posted dramatic decreases? Gillott says no: "They would have had to tank [in Q1 2007] to make for this decrease in voice usage, and they didn't."
To be fair, JD Power said the number of calls decreased, though, not the number of minutes. A decrease in the average number of calls by more than 20 percent in the U.K., where voice minutes have climbed by at least 11 percent for some carriers would mean callers are arbitrarily deciding to stay on the phone longer.
"It's very hard to get people to do more or less of something, behavior like this is a very hard thing to change, and if it did, it would take a long period of time," Gillott said.
Analyst John Byrne of Technology Business Research agrees that this type of change would take a long time, but Byrne said it is indeed happening. "Voice usage reported by carriers in the U.S. has plateaued," Byrne said. "Sprint has reported the same [average monthly voice usage per user] of 14 hours for the past five quarters. T-Mobile [USA] also reported that its average voice usage was down a little bit in Q1."
Byrne says that there are only so many hours in a day and users are looking to SMS and other messaging services to stay in touch: "As some of that voice usage plateaus, [U.S.] carriers are offering unlimited messaging plans so they can capture some of that incremental revenue." But Byrne says that voice usage has only plateaued, and agrees that the metric used by JD Powers is inadequate.
Gillott concludes: "The only way behavior changes as quickly as JD Powers says it has here, is if that behavior affects you health."
But I wouldn't touch those studies with a ten foot pole. -Brian