It is official: SA men are bigger talkers than women when it comes to cell phones in their cars. 57% of men interviewed in a major new study admitted to talking on their cellphones while driving, compared to 37% of women.

The study forms part of the year-long Mobility 2005 research project undertaken by independent research organisation World Wide Worx, with the backing of FNB, Cell C, Sentech and the Mobile Institute.

In the sixth phase of the study, entitled 'The impact of mobile technologies on the SA consumer', released on Thursday, a nationally representative sample of 2 400 South Africans took part in telephonic interviews over a three-month period during the first half of this year. "The interviews were conducted with landline users who also own cellular phones, resulting in a sample that represents the upper two-thirds income brackets of cellphone users," says Peter Searll, director of Plus Harris 94, which conducted the field work for this phase on behalf of World Wide Worx.

The research unveils fascinating patterns in cellphone usage, and a detailed picture of a very satisfied market. "One of the most significant findings of the consumer research was that South Africans love their cellphones," says Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx. "Across half a dozen dimensions we rated, people were extremely satisfied with the impact of their cellphones on their lives."

This is clearly the market segment that keeps the cellular manufacturers in business: just over half of respondents said they had obtained a new handset in the past year. Of those who obtained new phones, half again said they would again obtain new handsets in the coming year. What happened to their old phones? The biggest proportion - 44% of respondents - passed it on to family members.18% kept it as a spare, 14% sold it, 10% gave it to a friend, and 5% simply threw it away. No less than 6% said their previous phone was stolen.

Age was found to be a major differentiator of the way in which South Africans use their cellular phones, particularly in the choice of contract versus pre-paid accounts. While 33% of all users in this market segment are on contracts and 64% on pre-paid, only 8% of those in the 16 - 19 age group are on contracts, with 90% on pre-paid. This doubles to 17% on contracts in the 20-24 age group, with 78% on pre-paid. Contract use rises steadily through the age groups until it peaks in the 46-49 age group, at 40%, and then begins to decline again.

More than half the respondents cited free or cheap phones as the reason for choosing their form of contract, pointing to a dramatic market shift if current regulatory proposals to scrap contract incentives become law. Average expenditure among contract users was R384 per month, and among pre-paid users R134, again indicating the impact that would be made on the market should there be a further shift to pre-paid. Not surprisingly, expenditure is lowest in the 16-19 age group, rising steadily to a peak in the 35-44 age group, and then dropping steadily as age increases - confirming the old stereotype that yuppies are the most enthusiastic cellphone users.

Nokia is far and away the first choice of cellphone brand for local phone users, with Motorola and Samsung in distant second and third places.

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