This is the second installment in the exclusive RCR five-part series highlighting the results of the 1997 National Wireless Opinion Poll conducted by TynanGroup, Inc., of Santa Barbara, Calif., in December. This article explores the public attitudes on wireless technology in detail. Six hundred households were surveyed. The margin of error associated with the results is 4 percent.

We are indeed living in a global village. With the touch of a few computer keys, you can talk to your distant cousin in far away Ireland. You can celebrate New Year’s Eve with Dick Clark in New York while lounging on your verandah in San Diego via satellite television. Or receive a call from your mother-in-law while you’re on an interview because your personal communications services system allows you to be reached anywhere, anytime.

As carriers, you cannot overlook the individual neighborhoods across the country for the sake of the global village. Each community, connected via towers, is important. No two neighborhoods are exactly alike. To successfully develop sites, you need to understand the attitudes, concerns and issues of the community you hope will embrace your project, which is one of the reasons we conducted the poll.

Wireless rankings

In our survey, we used a variety of questions to find out how important wireless technology is to the American public. Using 10-point rating scales, we asked people to note the importance of wireless technology to them personally and inquired about a few other technologies, too.

Currently, wireless technology is of only medium importance to people.

On a zero-to-10 scale, it only rated a mean score of 5.2, approximately at the midpoint of the scale. Also, by comparison to other technologies, wireless importance only ranked fourth in a list of five. The highest ranks went to personal computers followed by cable TV and fax machines. Only pagers rated lower than wireless phones.

Interestingly, with the exception of cable TV, non-users of wireless phones rated all technologies lower than wireless phone users did. In other words, people who feel that one of these technologies is important to them also tend to value other technologies.

We found few significant differences between various types of respondents. Obviously people who use wireless phones themselves are much more likely to feel it’s an important tool than people who do not. Wireless phone users rated the importance of wireless phones at 7.7, second only to PCs at 8.2.

The wireless phone ranking, however, is increasing over the years. Two years ago the ranking was 4.2, and has risen to 5.2 today. This is logical since market penetration has more than doubled the past two years. Thus, we should continue to see wireless importance rise.

Demographic differences in perceived importance of wireless technology

1. People in the South were more likely to value wireless technology than people in other parts of the country.

2. Younger men under the age of 45 were substantially more likely to feel wireless technology was important to them than other demographic groups.

3. Women were more likely than men to mention the use of wireless phones for personal safety.

4. Generally, younger people value wireless technology and were much more likely to use wireless phones than older people.

Most men under age 45 reported using wireless phones for business. Women under 45 mentioned emergency use more than men under 45 by a margin of 26 percent. Among older men and women, the margin was 13 percent.

Perceived benefits

We also asked open-ended questions, hoping respondents would list the principal advantages and disadvantages of wireless phones. Regarding the advantages, users and non-users, although they placed a different emphasis, tended to mention the same topics. Consistent with earlier surveys, the principal advantages of wireless technology are safety, use in emergency situations, convenience and mobility. Also mentioned was the use of wireless phones for business. Both users and non-users mention the safety/emergency use issue more than any other.

The importance of wireless phone use when a car breaks down was mentioned especially frequently.

As might be expected, wireless phones and cars are related in the view of many people.

One person mentioned for instance, “I don’t even have a car, why should I use a wireless phone.” Non-users tend to mention the emergency use benefit almost to the exclusion of any other issue, while users were also likely to stress the mobility and convenience aspect of wireless phones.

Some drawbacks

On the negative side, the issue mentioned most often was cost. Forty-one percent of users and one third of non-users mentioned cost as the principal disadvantage of wireless phone use.

The second most frequently mentioned issue was driver safety. Interestingly, this was mentioned more often by non-users than by users. The concern is that people who are talking while driving don’t pay enough attention to the road and put others at risk. This issue was mentioned more often by suburbanites than by inner city or rural residents.

Other disadvantages mentioned in some frequency were fraudulent use of wireless phone numbers and the absence of privacy (conversations could easily be overheard by others). Eight percent of users complained about poor coverage. Finally, 5 percent flagged health risks as an issue.

Some differences between users and non-users appeared. Users were 10 percent more likely to mention cost as a concern than non-users. Non-users on the other hand were 10 percent more likely to mention the issue of driver safety.

There is clearly a division between the haves and the have-nots. Non-users show a certain disdain for users. “They are idiots.” This conflict translates later into, “Why should I allow a site in my neighborhood for them?”

Specific testing of some of these issues suggests the same findings. In addition to the open-ended questions we just discussed, we asked people to respond to specific questions about the advantages and disadvantages of wireless phones. The open-ended questions indicated that fraud and privacy/security were secondary to the cost issue. When we specifically raised these issues, they turned out to be as important as the cost issue.

By far, the most important advantages of wireless phones are emergency use, car breakdown and use by emergency services. In fact, to people who don’t have a wireless phone, these are the only issues that matter. Health concerns are clearly a secondary issue. Convenience and business use were important but also secondary. Keeping up with trends and technology was not particularly important to people.

The more you are aware of your customers’ and community’s basic paradigms, the more you can take responsibility for them, examine them, test them against reality, listen to others and be open to their perceptions. When you understand what is important to them, you can rest their fears and provide them with the benefits wireless technology universally provides.

The next installment in this series will deal with American’s opinions on towers in their neighborhood. For a copy of the complete 200 page opinion poll including all questions, results and cross-tabs or to receive a company profile, call TynanGroup, Inc., 2927 De La Vina St., Santa Barbara, CA 93105, (805) 898-0567, fax (805) 898-9897.


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