Almost one-in-four current cell phone owners (24%) have had their current handset for less than nine months, while one-in-six owners (15%) have had their phone for more than three years. So as the cell phone life cycle in South Africa leads us to predict, many more capable phones will soon enter the second-hand market, thus continuously raising the technical capabilities of phones used or owned by youth.
It is important to note that access to many cell phone applications was found to be more ubiquitous than the availability of given features on the personal phone. This reminds us that even cell phone owners are most likely using more than one phone.
While the above information gives us valuable information about respondents’ primary phone, the follow study should take this multi-phone usage factor into account.
96% of respondents used a prepaid or pay-as-you-go model while 4% said they were on a monthly billed contract. Here, no differences were found between cell phone owners and co-users. These numbers are very similar compared to the previously used subgroup of 16-19-year-old black South Africans, which found a ratio of 99/1 (AMPS, 2007). Respondents said to spend a mean average of 29.74 South African Rand, or roughly USD 3.00. Only 3% said they didn’t spend any money on credit while 8% said they didn’t know the amount.
When combining all 27 variables that assess detailed cell phone applications into two sets of aggregates, all of the respondents said that they had used at least one of the features on a cell phone in the past, while 97% said to have used at least one feature on the previous day. It is important to compare these findings with responses given to an outright question at the beginning of the questionnaire: Have you ever used a cell phone? Did you do so yesterday? There, only 74% of respondents said they had used a cell phone on the previous day. However, when comparing the mean aggregate numbers between those who reported to have used a cell phone on the previous day, and those who said they did not, the ambivalence of the outright question becomes clear: The latter group reported to have used significantly fewer activities on a cell phone ‘yesterday’, but yet reported to have used just 19% fewer activities than the former group. Hence, dismissing self-declared non-users early on would have significantly compromised the overall potential of the survey. The number of students who responded that they had not used a cell phone on a previous day, despite reporting to have done several activities, can be explained by the subjectivity of the phrase ‘using a cell phone’ – some activities may not be considered ‘proper’ use of the device, e.g. listening to music rather than making a phone call. The usage of outright questions to identify or eliminate non-users should thus be discredited.
Three scales were included in the questionnaire, asking respondents to rate their personal economic position, the standing of their classmates, and what they thought they deserved. This measure of relative deprivation provides a far more reliable measure than outright questions regarding their family’s socio-economic standing. Cell phone ownership was found to be a statistically significant determinant for feelings of relative deprivation. By testing variables with an independent sample T-test, the following results were found:
While cell phone ownership is significantly tied to one’s perceived social status in this sample, it also has an impact on more subtle issues. Respondents were asked to rate eight difference issues with regard to whether using a cell phone has helped in these cases, or not. After ranking them on a Likert scale from 2 (a lot) to -2 (not at all), some turned out quite positive while others remained rather neutral.
Comparison to computers and other devices
Compared to a traditional desktop or laptop computer, cell phones enjoy much more familiarity and popularity among respondents. For 14 variables, survey participants were asked to share not only if they used these activities on a cell phone, but also whether they had done so on a traditional computer. The results show that computer access is generally very limited among respondents, especially when comparing the same activities between cell phone and computer usage. Twenty-nine per cent of all respondents have performed at least one of these activities on a computer on the previous day (compared to 82% of respondents via cell phones).
Table 2: Comparison of usage
None of the proposed usage examples have been performed by more than a third of the respondents using a PC. By contrast, all of these activities have been performed by at least half of the sample population using a cell phone. In fact, the share of respondents having ever done an activity using a cell phone outperforms the shares by PC users with leads ranging from 18% to 70%. On a typical day, these differences persist, albeit in lesser extremes with cell phones outperforming PCs by no more than 38%. Some categories even share the same user group size on a typical day: Seeking information on further education and looking for information for school are both done by 14% and 12%, respectively – by cell phone and PC users alike.
Playing games was found to be the most popular usage on traditional computers (15% on the previous day). This mirrors the importance of games as the popular use of cell phones (53% on the previous day). Accessing the Internet, by comparison, is largely a cell phone activity: just 18% have ever downloaded media content from the Web on a computer – while 88% of respondents said they had done so using a cell phone.
100% of respondents have used a cell phone in the past to actively initiate at least one intra-personal communication application, which includes making a phone call, sending an SMS, giving a missed call, and sending a free ‘please call me’ message. Nine-in-ten respondents (91%) do at least one of these activities on a typical day. The practice of giving deliberate ‘missed calls’ to other cell phone users has for long been a cost reducing measure, well documented by Donner (2007), and is sometimes also referred to as beeping, flashing, or buzzing.
The most frequently used applications are making phone calls and sending text messages, with six out of ten students doing so on a typical day (65% and 62%, respectively). Practically all respondents have performed either of those two activities (99% calls and 97% SMS). As shown in
, boys were found to be more active in making phone calls and sending messages than girls: While 75% of male respondents sent SMS on the previous day, only 56% of girls did so. There is also a pronounced difference between both genders, whereby 68% of boys and 58% of girls made a call on the previous day.
Table3: Personal communication
Internet and Web usage
Access to the Web was measured using nine variables: downloading songs, videos or ringtones; getting news or weather online; accessing information about a hobby or interest; looking for information for school; hunting for a particular fact; looking for health or medical information; accessing information on further education; accessing information about movies, books or other leisure activities. When combining all nine variables into an aggregate of Web usage, 91% of all respondents have ever accessed a website using a cell phone – and 71% do so on a typical day. This definition excludes non-Web applications which are part of the Internet, but should not be confused with access to the World Wide Web. By aggregating the usage of instant messaging, email, and accessed websites (as featured in Error! Reference source not found.), we can conclude that 97% of all respondents have used the Internet through a cell phone. 83% within this study’s sample do this on a typical day; with boys leading this category by nine percentage points.
While some categories leave some uncertainty over respondents’ understanding of the question, others are unambiguous. Nine-in-ten respondents (88%) have downloaded songs, videos, or ringtones – while 41% did so on the previous day. This high number is closely followed by access to online news or weather: 80% have done this while 41% did so on the previous day. By comparison, just 9% said they had accessed the news on a typical day using a computer. All other categories have been done at least once by at least 50% of respondents. As for activities done on the previous day, the lowest-used application was ‘look for information for school’ with only 12% reporting to have done so.
Email had been accessed by 63% of cell phone users in the past, and 26% did so on the previous day – thus making email the least frequent Internet-based application on a cell phone, compared with 47% using instant messaging and 71% accessing websites on a typical day.
The significance of these numbers becomes clear when comparing the findings to national data published by AMPS. The AMPS findings indicate that 7% of South African youth aged 16 to 19 have accessed the Internet over the past year, while racial differences range from 38% (whites) to 3% (blacks). Yet again, AMPS refers to the entire country, making higher numbers at even a township school in the generally more affluent city of Cape Town not a shocking surprise. But the extreme differences between the present study and the supposed national average call the accuracy of the AMPS’ statistics into question.
Table 4: Internet and Web usage
N = 66, male n = 28, female n = 36
Entertainment Digital Media Applications
Over the past years, the entertainment features of cell phones have become increasingly important. Almost all new phones produced today provide the ability to play music, take pictures or record videos, and play games. Concurrently, several cell phone manufacturers have developed special handsets in recent years that decidedly omitted these features in order to provide more affordable handsets to the poorer masses in developing countries. 12% of respondents own one of the two most prominent representatives of these no-frills kinds of phones (Nokia’s 1100 and 1600).
However, a sizable majority of respondents have used each of the five “entertainment” features in the past. 92% have played a game on a cell phone while 53% do so on a typical day. 83% within this sample have taken a picture on a cell phone while on a typical day this is done by 56% of respondents. Playing music and recording videos have been done on the previous day by 44% and 47%, respectively.
Table 5: Entertainment applications
N = 66, male n = 28, female n = 36
Mobile Instant Messaging
For some time, instant messaging (IM) has been a rising phenomenon in South Africa. MXit, the client with the largest media attention, has also been the subject of some scholarly work (Bosch, 2008; Butgereit, 2007). However, recently other instant messenger clients have emerged, some originating from the respective network operators. Although different clients require different technologies, all require cell phones that are able to access the Internet, thereby eliminating many low-range and older phones.
However, all IM clients combined, eight-in-ten respondents (80%) have used at least one in the past, while half of all respondents (47%) do so on a typical day. Instant messaging was found to be a predominantly male activity. 93% of boys have ever used an IM client, while 72% of girls did so. The difference is even more pronounced in a 43 point lead in IM clients used on the previous day: 71% of boys did so, compared with only 28% of girls. Male respondents were also leading in every single IM client, with the largest margins pronounced in typical-day-usage for the largest clients, noknok and MXit.
noknok, an IM client only available to MTN customers (but which also allows some interaction to other networks), is the most used client with 53%, followed by the network-neutral MXit client, with 49%. However, MXit is being used more frequently, with 29% of respondents doing so on a typical day, compared to only 17% for noknok. méèp (Vodacom’s own equivalent) and the other network-neutral client 2go are only used by smaller shares on a typical day (9% and 5%, respectively).
MXit is used by 43% of boys on a typical day, compared to 29% of boys using noknok. For girls MXit triumphed over noknok as well with 19% compared to 6%. Although overall more people have ever tried noknok (which is probably tied to the enormous prevalence of MTN among respondents), MXit still prevails as the most popular IM client.
But as MXit’s first mover advantage dissipates, noknok’s community may soon be larger and thus more attractive. The technical difference between both clients might also have some influence in a decision to use one or the other: While MXit is based on Java, a programming script allowing for greater interactivity and better design, noknok is based on XHTML over WAP, a standard gateway to access websites on cell phones. It is not clear yet whether Java or WAP were available in greater shares on respondents’ phones, but a possibly greater availability of WAP could have lead to this equation.
Table 6: Instant messaging
N = 66, female n = 36, male n = 28
This study was set out to pilot a quantitative methodology that would allow us to obtain a better understanding of cell phone usage among South African youth. By choosing grade 11 students at an urban township school, the study was put to an extreme test as many respondents were only recent users of this technology, and many have lower literacy levels in English. Based on the findings, some questions will require better wording or structure, although most seem to have been sufficiently understood by students in this sample.
The study, without intentions of representativeness, found that cell phones are used by practically all respondents. On a typical day, the most important uses were personal communication (91%), entertainment use (82%, including music, photos, videos), websites (71%), and instant messaging (47%). Respondents without a personally owned handset were found to be equally active cell phone users.
With the ubiquity of cell phones, and the broad availability of advanced features such as the Java platform or Web browsers, there is a sufficiently large basis for media-rich Web applications, despite the low socioeconomic status of the target group. Likewise, the available phones already feature a wide gamut of technologies that allow for handset-independent Java applications, games, or mobile websites to provide mobile learning or social development content to low-income South African youth. Given the surprisingly large cell phone expenditure by respondents and their overwhelming aspirations for tertiary education, one should also not discount a certain willingness to pay for accessing useful services.
This study was one of the major piloting phases for the subsequent main research involving a greater number of schools in the South African Western Cape province with a sample size of 441respondents (Kreutzer, 2009). While these findings are more conclusive and allow for a more detailed analysis of low-income urban South African youth, the present study has laid the ground work for more reliable quantitative usage-based research.
1In April 2008 there were 43,317,511 active mobile phone lines reported (Wireless Intelligence, 2008) for South Africa’s 47,850,700 inhabitants (STATSA, 2007).
2 The large-scale household survey AMPS found 56% of South Africans use a cell phone (AMPS, 2007). The World Development Indicators reported 72% cell phone access in South Africa (World Bank, 2007).
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