Bridge Span 13-14: Mobile Shout Out From the White House

An industry can take some comfort in its accomplishments when it is used as the benchmark for measuring success made affordable.   As reported in late August President Obama was discussing health care insurance during a radio interview, when, in referencing the Affordable Care Act he said, “We were just talking with some folks earlier about the fact that, for a lot of people, it will be cheaper than your cell phone bill.”

Expanded services, an increasing number of plan and device options, more usage, and now being held up as an industry noted for its affordability – the wireless industry is on a roll!

A recent report by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) “Smartphones: Consumer Behavioral Trends,” indicates that the smartphone continues its development as a communications and data hub.  The numbers are not so surprising for an even a casual observer of technology use, but now they are demonstrated with empirical evidence.

While a typical smartphone user is still using the device as a phone, about 20% of the time, they are more than twice as likely, at 43%, to be using it for communications of other sorts, such as email, text or social networking.  Fourteen percent of the time they are surfing the Web.

The variety of apps being used is also impressive, even if somewhat predictable.  From weather to social networking to navigation and of course video, smartphone users are heavy app users.

As CEA chief economist Shawn DuBravac comments, “The degree to which consumers use their smartphones primarily as data information hubs, mostly forgoing devices’ traditional purpose, is significant.  Smartphones have become the viewfinder of our digital life. How smartphone utilization evolves has incredible implications moving forward.”  One implication?  All of this activity by users requires more data connectivity.

Data connectivity to millions of users who are on the move using games, video and voice is no small feat.  And even thought two-thirds of online U.S. consumers already own smartphones, the appeal, and the corresponding challenge for providers, only continues, as 45% of all consumers expressed an intention to purchase one in the next year.  Those who don’t own a smartphone? Sixty-one percent intend to snap one up soon.  More challenges to be met by industry as they serve more connectivity to more people more often.

The President is correct to use the mobile industry as a benchmark of service and product success at affordable prices, and consumers clearly agree given the continuing strong demand.  But he is wrong to analogize to the “Affordable Care Act” when a recent CNN/Opinion Research shows that 57% of consumers do not want it, and with various pieces being rolled back because they actually fail to work.

Government could learn many valuable lessons from the wireless industry about delivery of complicated products done in a way that consumers enjoy and at price level that cause the President to gush.  Perhaps the President himself has made the best case for making sure that government is out of the way of wireless, and allowing this highly competitive industry to continue its success.

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