Mobile Browsing Heads Toward the Mainstream

Personal computers may dominate Internet usage today, but mobile phones are poised to invade that territory with wireless browsing capabilities, a new study says.

Internet access via the mobile phone actually outpaces wireless access from a notebook PC in many of areas of the world — a statistic driven largely by the massive install base of mobile phones as well as more developed wireless networks, according to Ipsos Insight’s annual “The Face of the Web” study.

“Accessing the Internet on a wireless handheld device is no longer a novelty for consumers in the major global economies. It’s becoming a common, everyday occurrence for many people,” noted Brian Cruikshank, senior vice president and managing director of Ipsos Insight’s Technology & Communications practice.

Global Trends

Indeed, Internet browsing via a wireless device is showing robust growth in many global markets. France and the U.K are exhibiting the strongest growth, while Internet usage via mobile phone in Japan also continues to grow rapidly, according to the report. Today, four in 10 adults browse the Internet on their wireless handset in Japan, double the rate from 2003.

“In emerging markets, consumers are more likely to own a cell phone than a computer, so they get to the Internet through their phone,” JupiterResearch analyst Joe Wilcox told TechNewsWorld. “Data use is not as advanced in the United States.”

Ipsos confirms Wilcox’s assessment. Its data shows that growth in Internet browsing on a mobile phone is flattening in other leading markets, such as the U.S. and Canada, where wireless Internet access via notebook PC appears to be emerging as the stronger out-of-home Internet platform.

Mobile Surfing Mainstream?

Globally, however, the trend is strong, with 28 percent of mobile phone owners worldwide telling Ipsos they have browsed the Internet on a wireless handset. That figure is up slightly from 25 percent at the end of 2004.

Growth of this behavior for 2005 was driven by users who were at least 35 years old. This indicates that surfing the Internet on a mobile phone is emerging as a mainstream activity, no longer dominated by the traditional early adopter segment — young males — typical of many new consumer technologies, Ipsos concluded.

Mobile Browser Wars

This is all good news for mobile browser makers and could lead to an all out mobile browser war as carriers seek to add mobile services, like search or map functions that help users while they are outside the home.

Opera for Mobile is making its move, striking partnerships to grow the market for mobile Web browsing in Europe. Meanwhile, Openwave is touting its own mobile browser that has been deployed on more than 1 billion mobile devices already. Access and Microsoft are also in the game, and Nokia and Apple announced plans last year to co-develop a mobile browser.

“Mobile browsing will take off in the U.S. when the data rates come down. When we hit a certain threshold, the scales will tip and people will rush to buy,” Wilcox predicted. “The browser vendors want their software to be on the phones already when that happens.”

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