NEWS

Mobile users ‘mature’

Apostolos Sotiriou is the kind of customer that Greek mobile phone operators see as their next big hope. An avid user of the latest mobile phone technologies, the 28-year-old telecoms engineer uses his mobile phone every day to take a quick photo, download e-mail or surf the Internet. Apostolos said his mobile phone addiction does not come cheap. «It costs around 70-100 euros every month, maybe even more,» he said. The bill does not include annual upgrades to newer models. Greek mobile operators are counting on technology-savvy and deep-pocketed users like Apostolos to boost future growth, as new users, the main driver of growth until now, taper off. Latest figures from Greek mobile operators show the country’s mobile penetration rate at close to 100 percent, making it one of Europe’s most saturated markets. Also, with an aggressive regulator forcing voice tariffs down to bring them in line with European Union averages, operators are hoping that data services and the replacement phone market will offset declining revenues from voice calls. «The Greek market is becoming more and more like other European markets as it enters a maturity phase. Value-added services are becoming very important for users. The future success of companies will depend on this,» said Nasos Zarkalis, consumer commercial director at Vodafone Greece. Analysts said cracking that nut won’t be easy. While a lot of Greeks are attracted to novelty, many tend to use data services for the one-time thrill rather than on a regular basis. «Uptake of data services is still low due to high pricing and the fact that such services are still not relevant to most Greeks,» said Alpha Finance analyst Dimitrios Giannoulis. Statistics appear to bear this out. Revenues from data services, such as text messages and news and video clips, at market leader CosmOTE made up just 11.3 percent of its total services turnover last year. That’s well below the 16.4 percent recorded by Vodafone, the world’s largest mobile phone company, by revenues at the end of September 2004. Dimitris Lolis, general manager of Germanos’s retail business, the country’s biggest phone and accessory retailer, said the key is changing consumer behavior. «For example, camera phones: consumers use these for fun now but they have not replaced cameras for normal usage,» he said. Analysts said another area of growth operators can tap into is the lucrative replacement phone market where consumers are often prepared to pay more, especially for multimedia handsets. «With Greece’s mobile telephony penetration rate near maturity, clearly handset sales will be the most significant factor driving growth,» said analyst Dimitris Stathopoulos at market research firm Stat Bank. Stat Bank estimates mobile handset sales will grow by 10-20 percent this year to 2.7-3 million units, as users switch to integrated devices. This is higher than the 7 percent estimated by market research group Gartner in global handset sales. Retail sales figures indicate consumers tend to plump for mobile phones with the latest gimmicks when it comes to upgrading their handsets. Lolis said camera phone sales are booming at Germanos and are set to get even better. «Sixty percent of the handsets we sell are camera phones. By mid-2006, I estimate 100 percent of the handsets we sell will be camera phones,» he said. However, operators would do well to aim at young spenders who are more open to new designs and features. «People between 25-35 like trendy phones with sophisticated technologies. The below-20 age group likes fun phones, using them as radios and playing with ringtones,» said Lolis.