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Report on the Workshop COST 248: Technology Assessment in the Field of Telecommunications - The Future European Telecommunications User

Report on the Workshop COST 248: Technology Assessment in the Field of Telecommunications - The Future European Telecommunications User
Autor: Franz Büllingen
Quelle: Nr. 4, 4. Jahrgang
Datum: Dezember 1995
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Report on the Workshop COST 248: Technology Assessment in the Field of Telecommunications - The Future European Telecommunications User

von Franz Büllingen, WIK

Aims and Contents of the Research Cooperation COST

The abbreviation COST stands for 'European Co-Operation in the Field of Scientific and Technical Research' and involves an organisational research framework - existing since 1971 - of currently 19 European states. For the achievement of cross-border cooperation and coordination in the field of research and development, conferences and workshops are regularly carried out within the COST framework. Many COST-activities are directly engaged in problems and tasks of technology development such as 'New Materials', 'Genetic Engineering', 'Informatics' or 'Telecommunications'. The COST 248 action 'The Future European Telecommunications User' is focused on the consequences of new telecommunications technologies for society with particular emphasis on questions and aspects of social science. Insights into the telecommunications behaviour of consumers, that is of user groups, should be deepened, resulting in an international and intercultural comparison. This should provide more knowledge on how to shape telecommunications due to social concerns and for an increasing product- and service-orientation towards the users' individual needs and demands.

Since 1992, the Wissenschaftliche Institut für Kommunikationsdienste (WIK) has been involved in collaboration on these COST-activities. This year, it has been engaged in the organisation of the annual workshop in cooperation with the Forschungs- und Technologiezentrum (FTZ) of the Deutsche Telekom AG. More than 50 international and national guests accepted the invitation by WIK/FTZ to this event, which took place in the Führungsakademie der Deutschen Telekom AG/Bad Honnef on the 26th, 27th and 28th of April 1995. For the first time, representatives of the Eastern European countries the Czech Republic, Croatia and Hungary participated.

The workshop was mainly focused on four topics, which were treated in parallel working groups:

_ Methodical and methodological questions of qualitative data collection procedures in the field of private customers, that is private households.

_ Aspects of the development of communications behaviour in different user segments in the participating countries (analysis of cultural impacts on the development of use patterns)

_ Analysis of acceptance, adoption and diffusion of existing and new services as well as

_ Analyis of consequences for social structures and individuals with regard to integrity and safety of communications, the development of privacy and data protection as well as social consequences on mediatisation processes.

Stock-taking and research deficits

In their opening speech Annevi Kant (Telia) and Franz Büllingen (WIK) emphasised the fact that, in the last years, developments and dynamics in the telecommunications markets were highly determined by commercial use, also being partially driven by it. At first, a large number of newly developed services penetrated the area of commercial use and their majority were adopted successfully by many enterprises. Due to this development, social science was primarily interested in diffusion and adoption processes in this area. Although this development has not yet been finished and processes are not fully understood, endeavours in research have more generally progressed in the field of commercial telecommunications use than in the field of private customers. Examples taken from the field of gerontology show that we know little about how the development and segmentation in the field of private customers are influenced by new life styles, processes of individualisation or increase of leisure time. Further questions are: how do patterns of work- and everyday-organisation change with the use of telecommunications and which social factors determine the acceptance of telecommunications services to what extent?
Future trends towards the integration and multifunctional use of services and terminal equipment will presumably increase complexity as well as user problems. For this reason, it will be necessary, on the one hand to counteract this 'new non-transparency', e.g. by the provision of new services and by the development of appropriate software. On the other hand, this development shows that there is considerable need for research on the field of private customers to adapt new services to socio-structural change. Above all, new qualitative procedures have to be developed and tested in order to integrate the customers' knowledge and needs into the development of services and terminal equipment.

Results of research projects

Enid Mante-Meijer of KPN Research (Netherlands), and Hans van der Loo (University of Utrecht) emphasised in their reports that in order to get more reliable theses on the (future) communications and demand behaviour of users, the level of generalization has to be abandoned, moving to more focused analyses of individual user segments. Methodological and data problems as well as prognostic uncertainty will increase considerably. The generalization of experiences with the Plain Old Telephone (POT), obscures the view on current and future social trends of development, due to which the term 'mass market' will probably emerge as obsolete. In order to understand the behaviour of the private customer, you have to see him in his parallel roles as user, buyer and as a member of a social group with characteristic patterns of behaviour and specific attitudes towards social values.

KPN Research has, for instance, developed extensive questionnaires and patterns of criteria, towards which potential innovations of service developers (producers) should be oriented. These in order to observe the social appropriateness of telecommunications services and to avoid problems or conflicts when they are applied. Subsequently, potential - if possible - homogenous user groups were identified, and small panels of these were questioned about possible application fields of these services. Surprisingly, users often had rather more concrete ideas about possible applications or even had proposals for improvement than experts thought. Although the segmentation of markets is progressing, methodological validation and extension of this source of information could achieve a greater appropriateness of service innovations to the needs of the users.

Jaako Hyttinen (Omnitele, Finland) and Bill Melody (Technical University of Denmark) stressed these results by their own research experiences and tried to give a prognosis on future services and possibilities of development. Melody argued in favour of seeing the future market potential more soberly. Acccording to recent representative surveys of the US market (New York State Department of Public Service Network Modernization Study, 1995), only approx. one fifth of the population was seriously interested in online-information. Nearly a third totally lacked interest, merely 15 % were very interested in videophony and 10 % in videoshopping. Approx. 50 % of the population were indifferent to both services. The reasons for these attitudes have only been examined superficially.

Both reports emphasised that it is not only necessary to examine the desires and needs of the users more effectively, but also that the strategies for the introduction of such services have to be designed more intelligently and more pragmatically, being determined less by technical potentials and short-term profit expectations. Also if innovation cycles, e.g. of terminal equipment should become shorter, these dynamics alone should not determine market strategies with regard to private households.

Perspectives of future work

The final event of the workshop demonstrated that all participants considered the results as an important and successful step towards an improvement and intensification of international research cooperation. Although it was stressed that many results of research projects were confidential and could only be integrated implicitly, the working atmosphere was considered as open and constructive. The main focus of the next COST workshop, presumably to take place in Switzerland in 1996, will be predominantly on problems and possibilities of intercultural comparability of research results on the use of telecommunications in private households.


Franz Büllingen
Wissenschaftliches Institut für
Kommunikationsdienste GmbH
Postfach 2000, D-53588 Bad Honnef
Tel.: +49 2224 9225-0