IDC Survey Finds Market For Cell Phone Use on Airplanes Is For Data, Not Voice

FRAMINGHAM, MA – June 20, 2005 – The FCC has recently proposed lifting the ban on cell phone usage during airplane flights. While the passage of this proposal appears to offer solutions to the wireless industry, it has spawned disapproval among some consumer groups as the potential for in-flight usage would create disturbances to passengers. IDC investigated the results of a recent worldwide survey asking respondents for information on their preferences surrounding the use of mobile phones on airplanes. Only 11% of 50,000 respondents indicated that they are in favor of cell phone use for voice calls on planes, whether in unlimited or designated calling areas. However, 64% of respondents approved of passengers using their mobile phones in-flight for activities other than voice calls.

The removal of the in-flight ban on mobile phone use would potentially stimulate the market by providing new opportunities for wireless carriers and airlines to brand and market mobile commerce, drive increased data usage and ARPU, spur development of new channels, and spike demand for data-enabled phones and smart phones.

The survey also aimed to identify which wireless services were most appealing and potentially most likely to be adopted for use during flight. Of the 11 specified activities, in-flight text messaging (SMS) was the most popular. Interestingly, there was a correlation between the level of interactivity of a service and the respondent's interest in using that service. It demonstrates that interactivity is a foundational element for successful mobile phone applications among the surveyed segment.

"Whether a mobile device vendor is interested in the in-flight market or not, the key finding from this survey remains the same: By comprehending the needs and criteria specific to the user segment and location, mobility companies can enhance their products to better serve and target the desired customers and market segments," says Dana Thorat, research manager, Mobile Users.

This IDC Insight, In-Flight Voice Phone Calls Grounded Before Takeoff? (IDC #33334), investigates the results of a recent worldwide study, conducted by IDC and its survey partner,, asking respondents for information on their preferences surrounding the use of mobile phone on airplanes. It examines the possible opportunities for mobility players for in-flight opportunities, as well as other mobile device usage scenarios.

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