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U.S. Consumers Bonding with Mobile Phones

comScore released a comprehensive report on the behavior and attitudes of mobile phone subscribers. The first in a two-part series on the wireless industry, this report is based on a survey of U.S. consumers who use a wireless phone and analyzes consumer's satisfaction with wireless carriers, carrier switching behavior and usage of wireless features that go beyond voice communication, including wireless Internet access.

According to the study, consumers are growing ever more attached to their cell phones, with 14 percent reporting that they no longer subscribe to landline (wired) phone service, and 33 percent strongly agreeing they 'feel lost' without their cell phone. However, the bond can be part of a complex love-hate relationship with service providers.

Consumer loyalty and satisfaction among wireless subscribers are clearly related. According to the study, only 6 percent of respondents who were 'highly satisfied' with their carriers stated that they were likely to switch carriers at the end of their contract. In contrast, 76 percent of respondents who were 'highly dissatisfied' with their carrier were likely to switch.

Furthermore, 44 percent of the highly dissatisfied respondents were very likely to switch carriers prior to the end of their contract, signifying that the deterrent effect of penalty fees only goes so far. Not surprisingly, high satisfaction strongly correlates with the likelihood to recommend a carrier to a close friend or family member. Eighty-eight percent of those who were highly satisfied indicated a high probability to recommend their current carrier.

Switching cellular providers was most often prompted by a desire for improved network coverage, with 27 percent of respondents stating 'better coverage' as their primary reason for switching. In fact, coverage was the most often cited reason among subscribers of each carrier, with the exception of T-Mobile customers, who stated 'lower prices' as their top reason for switching. Across all subscriber groups, lower prices was the second most frequently cited reason for swapping plans (14 percent), followed by switching to a friend or family member's carrier (13 percent).

Today's wireless users are evolving their use of their cell phones beyond mere verbal communication, with many now subscribing to services that enable alternate forms of communication. Half of all wireless users (50 percent) subscribe to text-messaging, while 30 percent use their wireless phones for e-mail, 22 percent use instant messaging, and 15 percent use multimedia messaging -- note, the survey results appear to be higher than those from other recent market research studies.

Increasing numbers of wireless phones and plans offer Internet access, which provides consumers with rich content and increased functionality. Most new cell phones are now pre-enabled for Internet access, with 63 percent of respondents reporting that their phone came with this option. However, only 17 percent currently subscribe to the an internet access service.

Among consumers who access the Internet via their phones, the leading reasons for doing so are clearly related to a desire to stay connected and receive timely information. Forty-four percent cited e-mail as their primary reason for having online access through their wireless phones, while 34 percent went online for weather information, 29 percent for news, and 25 percent for sports updates.

Consumers also connect to the Internet for cell phone personalization options, including ring tone downloads (35 percent), games (21 percent), and wallpaper selections (16 percent). Interestingly, 10 percent of those who subscribe to the wireless Internet option do so in order to pay their bills.

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