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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006, 09:34 GMT
3G mobiles 'change social habits'
By Adam Blenford
BBC News website

Woman using a 3G mobile
So-called High Street hedonists use 3G mobiles while shopping
Increasing use of 3G mobile phones can change the way people communicate and create new social trends and tribes, a behavioural study has suggested.

The study said the combination of still and video cameras on modern phones, and the advent of high speed data transfer, can inspire a generation of users.

Bloggers, film-makers and clubbers all benefit from 3G phones, it said.

Analysts Future Laboratory said the report was the first ethnographic survey of 3G use across the UK.

3G is the next generation of mobile phone technology, offering a wide range of high speed mobile services, including video calling and messaging, e-mail, games, photo messaging and information services.

Free to use

Researchers studied the phone habits of 10 groups of friends between the ages of 16-35 over six weeks in a range of UK cities.

They identified a range of new behavioural patterns among those using 3G phones, which were free of charge for the duration of the study.

New technology on offer allowed a diverse range of personalities to express themselves creatively in different ways, the report said.

Men using 3G mobiles
Social gatekeepers: Fulcrum of a social network and use 3G mobiles to keep friends up to date
Piratopians: Creative outsiders who use 3G phones to make short films and other broadcasts
High Street hedonists: Use phones to show off new purchases, take pictures of items or asked for instant opinions from a dressing room
Alfred Tong, one of the report's authors, admitted that allowing free use of the phones encouraged heavy use, but said the study offered a glimpse into a 3G future.

"Without the constraints of price, we hope these results illustrate how people will use 3G as the technology spreads," he told the BBC News website.

The report's authors dubbed the new generation of mobile phone users Generation C, with C meaning content.

As well as offering bloggers the chance to post instantly to their own sites, researchers saw 3G phones used as a counterpoint to retailing, socialising, and as a tool for documenting their lives.

Analyst Ben Wood said he welcomed the study, but said that most mobile phone users remain concerned about looks, cost and battery life above all else.

"It's very hard to get people to discover these services and to use them," he said.

3G operators were still seeking ways to maximise income from multimedia services without putting off customers, he added.

'Andrew Marr effect'

According to mobile network 3 which commissioned the study, almost two-thirds of current 3G users (62%) are men.

It set up the UK's first 3G network and currently boasts 3.6 million customers.

Historically, if lots of people start to use mobile services they are very viral and will spread
Ben Wood
Research Vice-President, Gartner
But the technology is most popular among the more affluent 25-34 age group, not the 18-24 age group often targeted by advertisers.

Men used the technical capabilities of their phones more extensively than women, the report suggested, often adopting fictional personas to make amateur news reports, dubbed the "Andrew Marr effect" by researchers.

Some women used their phones to take pictures of taxi drivers in an effort to guarantee personal safety.

The increasing use of camera and video capabilities has already opened up new opportunities for phone users to contribute to news coverage on TV and online.

And the time-honoured blind date could soon fall out of fashion, if the report's conclusions are correct.

More and more people might use 3G phones to check out a potential date before meeting them, or use video calls as part of an interactive dating service.

Some exceptionally tech-savvy young men, the report found, won the hearts of women simply by impressing them with the use of their hi-tech tool, labelled natching by the Future Laboratory.

That might appear one unlikely new development, but the pattern of mobile phone growth has always bucked the prevailing trends, analyst Ben Wood said.

"What we have seen happen historically is if people start to use new services, especially in some demographic groups, they are very viral and will spread.

"If you had sat in a focus group about text messaging 15 years ago and I told you that soon we would be sending billions of these each year you would have said I was mad."

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