Everyone has a mobile phone. At least that’s what it looks like. I was trying to reconcile this with the statistic I’d heard that the older market is only 50% penetrated. And then in one of the myriad conversations I have about older people and mobile phones a light came on my head. It was when someone said “My parents have an old Nokia”. Not “My father has an old Nokia”. 50% comes from a lot of people sharing a mobile phone. For them it’s something they take out in emergencies and not something they keep with them at all times. They treat a mobile as most people treat a house phone.

Now I’m not saying that all older people do this, but there are enough for it to make a difference. It’s certainly the expected usage pattern for the Beafon S700 which is designed to be used as a house phone that you can take out with you.

There are some interesting consequences to this traditional attitude to mobile telephones. Usually when you call a mobile you are calling a person, call a fixed line and you are calling a place. The shared mobile doesn’t quite have the emotional attachment of an individual one. Which means it gets used less. It stops being the prime method of contacting a person. Worse the call that is most likely to be made is between the husband and wife. If they only have one mobile they can’t call each other unless one person is at a landline.

A package which provides two phones makes sense in this scenario, and it is smart to have phones which use the same desktop charger but which are different colours, this enhances the sense of the phone being personal. Even better the phones can be printed with personalised photographs of favourite places, pets or grandchildren to help build the bond.

You might put both people on a shared tariff but not on free calls between them. Instead, taking a leaf out of NTT DoCoMo’s book with their Raku Raku phones, a tariff which gives free calls between generations could be fabulously valuable. A high spending, middle-aged user could be given a couple of phones which are easy to see, use and hear for his parents with free calls to them. They then start using the phones and generating a little revenue but the real value for the network comes from reducing the churn for the high spending user.

These might not be smart phones, but it is the smart use of phones that unlocks the numbers for the networks, not only do you sell two more connections, you get traffic between them and a more loyal high-spending user.


Simon Rockman