Digital Content

South Africans have yet to fully embrace mobile commerce – the use of phones for transactions with financial value – although some sectors are booming.

This was one of the key findings of the "Mobile Commerce in South Africa 2005" study, undertaken by World Wide Worx, with the backing of Cell C, First National Bank and the Mobile Institute.

It will more than likely be another three to five years before mobile commerce becomes a mature industry locally, the survey predicts. Local consumers have yet to move beyond paying for ringtones and logos with phone airtime, and using their cellular phones to buy additional airtime. Airtime top-up is the only serious category of business usage of mobile commerce.

Worth noting is the fact that those few sectors to experience growth have generally done so spectacularly, rising from R50 million in value in 2000 to more than R2 billion in 2004, although this growth must be kept in context, says World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck

"This sounds impressive, but it is limited to so few categories of spending, most cellphone users are not even aware of its existence. Even where they are making a direct purchase in exchanging airtime for a logo or ringtone, they don't realise the transaction has financial value."

Considering mobile phones are the fastest growing technology ever seen in SA, it is significant that mobile commerce has taken so long to grow, says Goldstuck.

This is likely to change significantly over the next three years, as mobile banking becomes more widespread, and more merchants begin accepting payments via mobile devices, he says.

"Market maturity is at least three years away, with full-blown mobile commerce across numerous categories, from event and travel tickets to paying for fines and parking, only likely to be fully mainstream by 2010.”

As the market matures, so too will the players in the market. Several case studies contained in the report found that the market is still dominated by early players like Cointel, ExactMobile and iTouch, says Goldstuck.

“However, scrutiny of the market shows that numerous other mobile commerce players are poised to make an impact on the market.”