Telenor Research unveils Digital Frontrunners study from seven markets

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The Facebook family is strengthening its position amongst digital frontrunners globally. While most time is spent on messaging apps, today’s young consumers still rate SMS and mobile calls as intrinsic to their communication habits. And there’s a new challenger on the market: watch out as internet calls gain momentum in Asia.

In a Telenor Research study conducted in November-December 2015, mobile users aged 16-35 years in Telenor Group’s markets in Asia and Europe were interviewed about their mobile communication habits. The interviewees, identified as “digital frontrunners”, were from Thailand, Malaysia, Pakistan, Norway, Sweden, Serbia, and Hungary.

The way this group use internet on their mobiles gives good indications on the future developments of communications services and how the wider demographic in the respective countries will adopt mobile internet in the years ahead.

“Compared to our previous surveys of digital frontrunners, we observe a general trend towards increased use of internet based communication on mobiles. However, the survey shows that the preferences differ from market to market. Traditional telco services like voice calls and SMS are still an important part of the communication habits in most of the surveyed countries,” said Bjørn Taale Sandberg, Head of Telenor Research.

Despite not dominating in the time spent on it, traditional mobile calls are seen as the most important service type in all the countries except Malaysia.

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Malaysian and Thai frontrunners most “internetified” 💬

In Malaysia, a major shift has already happened in the communication market, but Thailand and Serbia seem to be hot on their heels.

Thailand and Malaysia are the most digital of Telenor’s surveyed markets; Malaysians stand out as the most eager users of messaging apps, with the vast majority (62%) ranking them as the most important communication tool. More than 80% of the Malaysian frontrunners use messaging apps on a daily basis compared to 49% for SMS. Looking back to the same survey in 2012, the numbers were reverse. This strong position of messaging apps today is mainly due to the success of WhatsApp amongst Malaysian frontrunners. In Thailand, Internet voice calling (32%) is a close competitor to ordinary mobile calls (35%) as the “most important” communication tool.

Most talkative – via new AND old

Serbia stood out in the survey, albeit in another sense than Malaysia. Serbia has by far the highest share of frontrunners who use ordinary phone calls and SMS on a daily basis. The large majority use traditional mobile voice calls at least once a day (94%). Yet, they are on par with Malaysia and Thailand when it comes to frontrunners’ use of messaging apps (85% use them daily).

Digital frontrunners in Hungary are ahead of their peers in Scandinavia and Pakistan when it comes to the daily use of messaging apps but behind Serbia and the Asian markets. While messaging apps are used by more than 70 % on a daily basis, almost half of the Hungarian frontrunners still rank ordinary voice calls as the most important service for mobile communication.

Embracing the new 🔮

Pakistan is an internet market still in the making, with traditional mobile calls and SMS dominating the communication habits. However, its digital frontrunners have embraced the new opportunities provided by digital communications. Almost half of those surveyed use a variety of messaging apps (Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Viber are popular choices) and more than a third use internet voice and video calls on a daily basis.

“This is the first time Pakistan is included in the Digital Frontrunners survey and our findings resemble those of the Malaysian respondents in 2012. The Pakistani frontrunners may go down the same route as their Malaysian counterparts over the next one to three years as internet access and smartphone become increasingly common,” said Sandberg.

The Facebook family takes position

Messaging apps are the winners in the brave new digital world – particularly in the mature markets. Malaysia, Thailand and Serbia are at the forefront of frequent daily usage. With services such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp under its umbrella, Facebook Inc. is the overall leader. Still, its strongest competitor varies from market to market. In Serbia, Viber is by far the most important internet based service, whereas Line has the strongest position among the Thais in much the same way WhatsApp has taken a dominating position in Malaysia. In Norway, Facebook Messenger has now caught up with Snapchat’s previously dominant position as the most popular communication app.

Despite the popularity of internet based messaging, traditional SMS is still important for frontrunners in Scandinavia, Pakistan and in particular Serbia.

New contender: Internet calling 📶

In addition to a hunger for messaging apps, the Thai frontrunners have the highest consumption of, and the strongest preference for, new frontline services such as internet voice calls and video calls of the surveyed markets (65% and 52% daily use respectively).

Games, music & fun

Across the surveyed countries, frontrunners use the mobile for a wide set of activities. The majority use it to browse and communicate on a daily basis, but also to listen to music, watch videos and share photos on a weekly basis. Mobile gaming is popular across the markets, particularly with Thai, Malaysian and Hungarian frontrunners.

An impressive 22% of Thais say they shop online on a daily basis compared to 3% in Norway. This could be attributed to the popularity of LINE, which also serves as a payment platform.

The Swedes have the highest share of users who use the mobile to transfer money or use financial services on a weekly basis (57%), followed by Thailand (49%) and Norway (44%).

Pakistan is the only of the surveyed countries where a larger share use their mobile phones for communicating on the internet than to browse. In all the other six countries, browsing is the activity nearly everybody does.

You’ve got mail 💻

Despite assumptions that internet communication is moving from email to social media, email is used on mobile by a fair share of frontrunners in all surveyed markets except Pakistan. Serbia has the highest share who use it several times a day (39%) with Malaysia (33%), Thailand (33%) and Hungary (32%) more or less on par. Norway (26%) and Sweden (24%) have fairly similar email habits, whereas Pakistan stands out in this regard with a remarkable low share who use email on their phones. Only 1% say this is used several times a day.

About the Digital Frontrunners study:

  • This third Digital Frontrunners study was conducted in November-December 2015
  • More than 5600 mobile internet users, aged 16-35, from Malaysia, Thailand, Pakistan, Serbia, Hungary, Sweden and Norway were interviewed about their communication habits.
  • The first Digital Frontrunners survey was conducted in Q4 2012, covering Malaysia and Sweden.
  • The second survey was conducted in Q2 2014 and extended the footprint to also cover Thailand, Serbia and Norway.