Social networking will be a more popular communication mechanism than either voice or SMS, according to 31 global mobile operators cited in a new report from Airwide Solutions. The report, commissioned by Airwide and performed by research agency mobileSQUARED, asked operators across Europe, North America and in the Asia-Pacific regions what they believed would be the most popular applications and the top forms of communication in 2015.

When examined individually, traditional forms of communication still appeared to be at the top of the list. The operators said that 87% would use messaging (SMS/MMS) and 81% would use voice. However, when all the social networking options were combined, they totaled 94%, thus becoming the new majority.

The operators said that "social networking" wouldn't just be the most heavily used service among applications, it would be the "most important form of communication," too.

Currently, social networking accounts for 50% of all mobile Internet traffic in the majority of developed markets, and it goes over 50% in a number of emerging markets. The traffic comes from smartphones in developed markets, but it's becoming popular in emerging markets as well, says mobileSQUARED.

Factors Leading to Social Networking's Increase

From Q4 2008 to Q4 2009, the time spent on social networking sites has increased from less than a minute per day to over 10 minutes. The increase is due to better network coverage and speed, falling data costs and the improved experiences now being delivered by mobile websites, the reports states.

Also tied to the increases are the rise of smartphones - Android devices are now selling over 200,000 per day worldwide and the iPhone 4 has sold 3 million devices in the top five global markets within 22 days (or 136,363 per day). According to Gartner, smartphone sales represented 19% of all mobile sales in Q2 2010. Also, Frost & Sullivan says that by 2015, 54% of all devices in the Asia-Pacific region will be smartphones.

With this growth in mind, the operators said that "social networking" type applications (77%) would be the most-used apps by 2015, followed by messaging (64%), email (58%) and voice (55%). Navigation/Maps, camera, video/TV player, Music player and banking rounded out the top 10.

More details on the operators' thoughts regarding messaging, innovation, customer loyalty, inhibitors to adoption, advertising and more can be found in the lengthy 15-page report, available for free download here.

Sources: GoMo News, Airwide