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Given the unforeseen and seemingly overnight successes of mobile services like ring tone downloads and picture messaging, the U.S. wireless industry's ongoing campaign to decipher the mobility habits of the highly coveted teen market could be fairly labeled a futile effort. Still, the ever-vigilant and never-satisfied wireless sector persists in trying to pry open the minds of teens and calculate what services might finally warrant the elusive designation of killer app.

A recent example is a report released in March by Telephia, a San Francisco-based provider of market research and network performance statistics to the wireless industry. The firm surveyed 1,500 mobile teens in the 35 largest U.S. markets and found that two-thirds of them already use some form of mobile data services. The study also identified mobile online gaming as the one application best poised to usurp camera phones and Jay-Z ring tones as the next must-have for teenagers.

According to Alex von Krogh, senior research editor for Telephia, 41 percent of teens surveyed expressed interest in having online gaming capabilities on their next wireless device. The ones who do are also already more lucrative customers for both wireless service providers and mobile handset manufacturers: The average mobile online gamer used 811 monthly minutes of use, nearly double that of teens who don't use the apps. Telephia also found that gamers paid $94 on average for their devices and reported a 65 percent satisfaction rating with their phones, while non-gamers paid an average of $71 and were less satisfied (50 percent).

There's a pretty big upside, von Krogh says. Gaming represents a high-growth application and an opportunity to drive adoption and boost ARPU.

Telephia's hypothesis looks strong, if the recent Wireless 2004 trade show held in Atlanta by the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association is any indication. For the first time ever, network technology and even the health of the high-tech industry took a backseat and entertainment applications, content usage and handsets priced and designed for younger users dominated both the exhibitions and buzz on the show floor.

Telephia's study is part of the firm's new focus on the teen market. Its Mobile Teen Report, based on a dedicated survey of those 1,500 mobile teens and 1,100 parents of mobile teens, will be produced semi-annually, and track growth metrics like average revenue, penetration, churn and quality of service, von Krogh says.

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