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You Used To Call Me on My Cell Phone: Trends in the U.S. Telecom Industry

2 minute read | October 2015

With the Internet ablaze with memes about Millennials not wanting to use their mobile phones for calls and Drake’s latest hit about someone who used to call him on his cell phone, you might think that Americans are making fewer mobile calls than in the past. Drake, who Millennials view as 77% more social media savvy than the average rap/hip-hop artist, was certainly able to draw attention to this plight (and his dance moves). “Hotline Bling” lyrics aside, however, Nielsen research shows that the number of calls we make and receive has stayed relatively stable this year across all ages and races. In fact, over the past year, the number of calls across all ages and ethnic groups has changed less than one call per day on average.

What is changing, though subtly, is the amount of time we’re spending on the phone, which is declining except among certain groups. According to Nielsen Mobile Insights, 31% of U.S. wireless subscribers describe their voice calling usage as “low,” but that percentage is actually up 3% from 28% at the end of 2014. Still, the probability that a subscriber simply doesn’t call much is not moving too quickly.

By age, wireless users 55 and older spend the least amount of time on their phones, followed by those 18-24. But while the minutes we spend on the phone has decreased year-over-year for those 25-34, 35-54 and 55+, mobile users 18-24 are actually spending more time making calls—and not just by a few seconds. In fact, they used 33 more anytime minutes on calls in third-quarter 2015 than they did in third-quarter 2014.

By race, African-Americans spend the most time talking on their phones, and the number of minutes they spent is up since third-quarter 2014. Comparatively, however, all other races and ethnicities used fewer minutes, including Hispanics, who spend the second-most amount of time on the phone. And the decline for this group year-over-year was significant—more than 40 minutes.

When are wireless users placing these calls? In a look at the New York market, Nielsen Mobile Performance panelists are still making some calls at all hours of the day. And call time peaks across the hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

If the amount of time we’re chatting on our phones is stable or slightly down, does that mean we’re texting more? When we look at text adoption, we see that the percentage of subscribers who use text messaging only increased 1% over the past year, rising from 78% to 79%. So the likelihood that someone texts isn’t changing by much.

While certain types of subscribers have shown change from the end of last year through to now, traditional cellphone habits are surprisingly stable. Customers may be out there buying a new-and-improved device each year, but technological process has not killed the old-fashioned, spoken “hello.”

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