Feature Article

February 07, 2013

Bamboo Mobile: Used Device Trade Cleared $900 Million in 2012

The proliferation of mobile devices currently sweeping the United States, and indeed the world, by storm has raised a lot of noteworthy issues in the time since its inception. It's raised issues of bring your own device (BYOD) doctrines, it's given the mobile worker platform a whole new life, it's changed the gaming industry as we know it in a lot of ways, and many more besides. But a recent report from Bamboo Mobile suggests that there's another issue at stake: the issue of old mobiles, and their accompanying value.

The report from Bamboo Mobile--itself a division of Compass Intelligence--points to over 324 million mobile phones in the United States that are currently either idle or deactivated. Just 15 percent of those devices were recycled or traded in on new devices. That's a pretty low number, but the Bamboo Mobile report also indicates something like hope entering the fray, as there's a growing interest in and awareness of recycling options.

For instance, the report reveals, in 2012, all the major network operators established some kind of in-store trade-in program geared toward getting old devices into a recycling program. A variety of online options also came into play, as did a growing number of automated kiosks devoted to recycling old devices. The market for trade-ins and recycling grew to over $900 million in 2012 as more mobile device owners took advantage of these services to get a little money back on new devices.

Over the next several years, Bamboo Mobile believes this uptrend will continue, ultimately resulting in a market measured in several billion dollars, though it will likely take "the next few years" to get there. Success, however, looks reasonably positive, as 2012 saw an estimated 48 million devices get recycled or traded in for credit. 21 percent of mobile customers were found to have performed one of those two actions themselves, and carrier-owned stores accounted for a hefty 61 percent of all traded devices.

The practice of recycling used cell phones and mobile devices is a smart one; since the construction of mobile devices is at least partially dependent on precious metals--gold, silver and the like--construction can get a little expensive. Keeping these devices out of landfills and back in recycling reduces the amount of material needed to create new devices. Reducing one input allows for lower cost--although there's the cost of recovering the minerals from the old devices to consider as well--which in turn may well result in reduced costs to the user, or at least serve as resources to drive further research and development, ultimately producing better devices.

There's still quite a bit of room for the used device trade to take off--going from under a billion to several billion dollars represents a healthy gap--and doing so can not only result in the potential for better devices but the possibility that they can be had at lower costs. More trade-in potential--and more trade-in value--will likely help narrow the gap between reality and potential still further, and should be explored. There's a lot of possibility out there, and anything that produces not only better conditions for the consumer but also for the environment is certainly worth consideration.

Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli

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