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Mobile users unwilling to change operator

M. Dinesh Varma

Cellular phone has outstripped public call offices as primary phone, says a six-country survey

CHENNAI: In what could hold implications for the Department of Telecom’s proposed number portability policy, a significant section of mobile phone users who took part in a six-country study of tele-usage seems to have given the thumbs down to a chance to switch to another service provider offering lower tariffs.

The survey conducted by LIRNEasia, an agency that serves as a think tank for policymakers across South Asia, including India’s Department of Telecom, found that 37 per cent of India’s bottom-of-the-pyramid mobile phone owners did not consider it worthwhile to switch to a cheaper package.

“The significant amount of customer loyalty in this segment is significant in that the lure of a lower tariff might not prompt a switch of service provider,” Rohan Samarajiva, Chair and CEO of the Colombo-based LIRNEasia told The Hindu.

In fact, about 25 per cent of respondents said they would “definitely not switch.” This is almost double the number who would “definitely switch.” These findings offer further vindication of the viewpoint that quality and customer satisfaction, more than cheaper tariffs, would form the basis for a subscriber to change the operator.

The survey was aimed at eliciting responses that would help to frame ICT policies based on a better understanding of how low-end subscribers used phones. It mapped responses from the bottom-of-the-pyramid users (those with a monthly bottom line earning of $38) in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Thailand.

A majority of the low-end mobile users in India used their cellular phones for business, financial or work-related purposes, according to the survey that involved 9,950 face-to-face interviews (September-October 2008) and focused group discussions and depth interviews (February-March 2009). Almost 77 per cent of the respondents used their mobile phones for an economic end. And more than 50 per cent of them did so daily.

Patterns showed that mobile phones had outstripped public call offices as primary phone. In fact, the resort to a PCO had fallen by 38 per cent since 2006. This finding holds a special significance for a country like India where many PCOs are a source of livelihood for the physically challenged.

Another interesting finding was that mobile-owning Indian women showed more entrepreneurial spark than their counterparts in Pakistan or Sri Lanka. On the flip side, the awareness of using the mobile for voting for reality shows or radio programmes was very low in India (10 per cent). The survey found that rural mobile owners travelled an average of 10 minutes more than urban counterparts for top-ups. The meant time to top up was 12 minutes in a city as against 22 minutes in a village.

Asked about the largest perceived benefit from the mobile phone, the surveyed population in all the countries voted for emergency communication and relationship maintenance. No respondent felt that joining the mobile phone era had not changed their life at all or worked to a disadvantage.

The survey found that electronic reloads remained under-utilised despite being a highly accessible form of recharge. Interestingly the survey found that women in Pakistan felt uncomfortable with an electronic reload session where vendors got access to their number, Mr. Samarajiva said.

He suggested that service providers fine-tune their software to tighten confidentiality for electronic reloads.

Though the survey found that the low-end users were still in the Mobile 1.0 mode, in which the use of all three basic services of voice, missed calls and SMS were confined to a third of the respondents, the forecast for the Mobile 2.0 phase of value added services is rosy.

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