According to Wikipedia, there are 302,947,098 cell phones in the US. That works out to 96 percent of the population having a phone. It sounds like a lot – until you look at some of the other countries. Montenegro statistics for example show that 192.53 percent of the population has a phone. Ireland (my home this summer) isn’t on the list – but the UK is with 122.9 percentage of cell phone penetration. Ireland has got to be similar.
So why do I mention this? Because you don’t have to spend much time in Europe to see how far behind the US is in cell phone (aka mobile) use. A mobile number is required for different things here – the way an email address is required for so much activity online. Want a car? They’re going to want your mobile. Want to make a reservation? They’re going to want your mobile.
Kids get phones younger in Europe. In Feb 2009, the Telegraph (UK) reported that the average age for getting a cell phone was 8. I’m finding it tough to get stats for kids younger than 13 in the US. Since I have kids between 7-12 and we’ve spent a lot of time in Ireland and Minnesota, I can report firsthand that when my middle kid was in second grade several girls in her Irish class got mobiles (for First Communion). In Minnesota, cell phones started to emerge in fifth and sixth grades.
Also I see that folks are just doing more here – or at least there are more options for broader engagement by cell phone here. (I’m sure there are standout uses and users in all countries.) For example, I recently saw a Twitter hashtag broadcast before a live news-talk program in the Ireland. Viewers were invited to Tweet in questions and comments for the folks on the program. Now they don’t get the same response as a cell phone vote for American Idols back home – but the interaction is deeper. I see more silent concerts here – where attendees don headphones and plug into a streamed program. There’s a Times Square type billboard in Dublin where folks are invited to upload their videos to be seen by all. You can text a taxi in London. (I think that’s available in the US as well.)
And my top use of cell phone in Europe – a QR code at in the Vatican. QR codes are emerging in the US – but they seem to be more prevalent here. Often the QR code seems to replace a URL in print ads.
I know folks in dead zone in Minnesota are wondering if I’m just trying to make them jealous – I’m not but I wanted to point out that we seem to be behind the curve on this one. We can’t focus on broadband coverage to meet the US needs today – we should be looking at what folks are doing in Montenegro and plan our infrastructure and innovation based on their usage.