An MVNO for a senior market?

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Better living conditions and healthcare have created an ageing population. There are 21 million people over 50 years old in the UK, classified as ‘seniors’ by the Office for National Statistics.

They represent more than a third of the population, and fertile ground for dedicated mobile services in the opinion of some.

But the UK mobile industry has so far failed absolutely to address this ‘senior’ market, and definition of it as an over-50s demographic is fraught with difficulty. After all, what right-minded 50 year-old wants to be lumped in with doddery pensioners and sold chunky, clunky handsets with limited functionality?

For that matter, what young-at-heart pensioner wants to be wittering on a brick phone when they could be Twittering on an iPhone? Tech-savvy 70 year-olds do exist, and they will become only more numerous as 50-somethings, railing against their perceived ‘seniority’, age.

Manufacturers Emporia and Doro, from Austria and Sweden respectively, are pitching squarely at the UK ‘senior’ market, and have signed with local distribution giants 20:20 Mobile and Data Select to gain traction.

Both have scored successes on the continent. Emporia reckons it ‘owns’ 17 per cent of the Austrian prepay market, and Doro claims orders in the third quarter were up 38 per cent on the back of retail agreements with Carphone Warehouse in Europe and Orange in France.

Last month, the pair assembled with analysts, academics and industry experts at a London conference, ‘Mobile Phones for the Senior Market’, to size up the opportunity for vendors and airtime providers. The upshot: that seniors represent a loyal and discerning crowd with very specific needs, and that the UK is ripe for an MVNO to pitch specifically to this demographic.

Orange UK vice president of wholesale, business development and partnerships Marc Overton says: “The senior market provides a significant opportunity for network operators to offer well-developed, high quality services that address the specific needs of consumers in that segment, particularly those who are not regular mobile phone users.”

That last part is key, of course. The ‘senior’ market the likes of Emporia and Doro are targeting does not really comprise 21 million people, as the statisticians contend – nor as speakers hype in the conference presentations. It is a specialist group within that demographic, characterised broadly by a dislike of technology, or by impairments to certain faculties that tend to come with age.

In that sense, it is a market that stretches way beyond the ‘senior’ demographic as officially described. Fear of technology is a state of mind, and difficulties with hearing and sight and such are not restricted to the aged.

Full article in Mobile News issue 453 (November 30, 2009).

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