34.6 Million US Mobile Web Users

There were 34.6 US mobile web users as of June, 2006 according to a recent report. The numbers are in a press release (pdf), announcing the Telephia Mobile Internet Report. The full report is available only to Telephia's clients who are "leading Mobile Operators, Device Manufacturers, and Content Companies". The numbers in the press release say a lot about the current state of the mobile web but being just highlights of the full report they raise questions too. You can't blame Telephia - after all they make their money selling the full report for thousands of dollars to carriers etc. I've been playing around with the numbers trying to get a clearer picture of mobile web use in the US.

With roughly 206 million US mobile phone subscribers in June, 34.6 million is 17% of total subscribers. Another Telephia study from a year ago put the percentage of subscribers with data plans at 22%. It's probably a little higher now, maybe 25%, so two thirds of the subscribers with data plans actually used the mobile web in June. You'd think it would be closer to 100% of the data plan subscribers - maybe the rest are tethering laptops or using vertical market java apps that acquire data though the Internet.

Telephia calls the 34.6 million an increase without saying how big an increase or compared to what. I tried comparing the current report with last year's (press release (pdf)) but it's difficult to make direct comparisons as the two releases included different metrics. The only statistic that was reported for both periods was a listing the top 10 mobile web sites and their reach which is Telphia's term for the percentage of the total mobile subscribers who accessed a given site. In an exercise that will make statisticians blanch, I combined the data from 2005 and 2006 into the following table. The '05 Users' number is based on the 05 reach multiplied by 182.6 million, the approximate number of June 05 subscribers from the Telecommunications Industry Association via Twice.com. So here are the top 10 mobile sites for both 2006 and 2005 according to Telephia.

Site 06 Users (millions) 05 Users Increase 06 reach 05 reach 06 rank 05 rank
Yahoo Mail 6.5 4.4 47% 3.0% 2.4% 1 2
The Weather Channel 5.8 4.6 26% 2.7% 2.5% 2 1
ESPN 5.3 3.3 61% 2.5% 1.8% 3 5
Google Search 4.4 3.8 16% 2.0% 2.1% 4 4
Hotmail 3.4 3.8 -11% 1.6% 2.1% 5 3
Mapquest 3.1 2.0 55% 1.4% 1.1% 6 7
AOL Mail 2.9 1.8 61% 1.4% 1.0% 7 9
CNN 2.8 1.8 56% 1.3% 1.0% 8 8
Yahoo Weather 2.7 - - 1.3% - 9 -
Yahoo Search 2.5 2.6 -04% 1.2% 1.4% 10 6
Yahoo Driving Directions - 1.8 - - 1.0% - 10
Totals: 39.4 29.9 32% 16.4% 18.4% - -

Take this with a grain of salt as I'm comparing different sets of sites for the two years, but it looks like the top 10 mobile sites are getting 32% more visitors this year compared to last. That's a pretty encouraging growth rate and shows that mobile web use is growing much faster than the 12% growth in subscriber base predicted by the Telecommunications Industry Association.

The makeup of the top ten sites is pretty much what I'd expect. The most popular sites are all very well known names on the full web and are also sites found on all the carrier portals. The mix of sites in the top 10 is interesting. Email is the most popular mobile web category followed by Weather, Search, Sports, Directions and News. I'm surprised that I don't see a web based Instant Messaging site in the top 10. I guess people don't do that much IM on phones or if they do they use a built-in or Java app or an SMS based IM interface.

Winners and losers. Yahoo clearly has a commanding lead in mobile popularity with three sites in the top 10 and big gains (almost 50%) in users for Mail and Weather. Even though Yahoo lost some ground in Search and Driving Directions they still ended up with an overall gain of 32% in visitors across all three sites in the top 10. ESPN, AOL Mail, Mapquest and CNN also had impressive traffic increases. AOL's may be partly a result of making e-mail a free rather than subscription service beginning in May, 05. Mapquest and The Weather Channel both redesigned their mobile sites this year and both had significant gains in visitors. Hotmail's drop in users probably just means that people are switching to the beta of Hotmail's replacement, Live Mail.

It's interesting to compare how the mobile web giants rank, but the real innovation in the mobile space is mostly off-portal. I'd really love to see this sort of data on the top 1000 mobile sites. There's a need for a mobile version of something like Alexa to let site owners and potential advertisers know where various mobile sites stand in terms of traffic. For now all we have are tidbits from these paid research reports from Telephia and it's chief competitor m:metrics.

Other data of interest in the Telephia press release included market share of the top mobile browsers .

Rank Browser (%)
1. Openwave 27%
2. Motorola 24%
3. Nokia 13%
4. Access NetFront 9%
5. Teleca AU 6%
6. Sony Ericsson 5%
6. RIM 5%
7. Blazer 4%
8. Samsung 3%
8. Microsoft 3%
9. Danger 2%

No big surprises here either. Openwave leads because both Verizon and the Nextel arm of Sprint/Nextel specify that their handset vendors include the Openwave browser on all non-smartphones. Number 2 Motorola and 3 Nokia are the top selling handset vendors in the US. I bet Opera was number 10. With over 5 million users of Mini alone worldwide, Opera would only need 700,000 US users to account for over 2% of the 34.6 million US mobile web users and rank ahead of Danger.

Telephia also reported that 81% of mobile internet users have xhtml-mp capable browsers. That's good news, I don't think anyone will miss wml when it's gone. I wouldn't shut down the wml sites just yet though as 19% of 34.6 million is still 6.6 million and that's a lot of eyeballs. There's a lively discussion going on right now over at the wmlprogramming Yahoo group (which is the official wurfl developers forum) about whether wurfl should return xhtml-mp instead of wml as the preferred markup when an unknown device is encountered. While the consensus seems to favor of the change, posters from both Latin America and Canada! reported that they still get mainly wml-only handsets hitting their sites. I imagine this would be even more true in Africa.

Source: Telephia Audience Metrics Via OSNews and EMarketeer

Related Wap Review Articles:
Yahoo Mobile Mail Beta Review
Mobile Mail Speed Test
Windows Live Mail Mobile Beta
Mobile Driving Directions Comparison Review
ESPN Mobile Review

3 thoughts on “34.6 Million US Mobile Web Users

  1. Ken,
    I'm not really in the content provider business and I have no experience dealing with the US carriers other than as a customer. I do know that it is considered possible but relatively difficult to make a deal with any of the big US carriers to have the carrier bill the user for your content. Direct carrier deals seem to be limited to very well know providers like NASCAR, NFL and the huge recording studios.

    You might have better luck starting with the small 3G MVNO's like Amp'd (http://Ampd.com) or Helio (http://helio.com) and/or going through a content aggregator like Bango (http://bango.com).

    Another way to get around the carriers is with free advertising supported content.

    Good luck,

  2. I'm currently doing a WAP related business in Beijing China..Selling videos for CPs on Chinese cellphone platform is our goal and the main revenue stream. With the 3G's launching in the 3rd quarter this year, video business will be as good as the cellfone rington business about 3 years ago.. but there are SPs in China, Korea and Japan, these SPs give you permission to charge cellphone users directly without hassle. such as 40 cents US per download. Do the mobile service providers in the states, such as Verizon allow CPs to do this? I started the CP(video business) from a YouTube rip sites in China, and now we have gained a lot of experience on UE, operation etc. I'm just about to bring the product back to North American to rewrite the Myth of YouTube, but with the WAP model. We now have over 80,000 video clips with copyright, should be enough to start this service. I'm keen to learn more, plz advise.
  3. Yes, there's a total need for an Alexa type tool. This kind of info is crucial to us, but you just can't find it. Hard to know how reliable Telephia or M:Metrics data is, too -- are they scanning carrier gateway logs?

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