5 biggest changes in the mobile phone recycling industry

box of old unwanted mobiles

box of old unwanted mobiles


We’ve been recycling the nation’s mobile phones for over a decade and have been uniquely positioned at the pointy end of the consumer electronics market to experience consumer trends in real time. Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen the mobile telecommunication industry turned on its head by huge leaps in technology, the rise and fall of mobile super brands and a seismic shift in the way consumers think and feel about mobile technology.

Here, we list the 5 biggest changes in the mobile phone recycling market by outlining the key trends which have helped shape the industry and how these have impacted the make and volume of mobiles coming through our doors.


The demise of Nokia

If there is one event which has come to define the last decade in mobile phone recycling, it is surely Nokia’s descent from being the biggest-selling mobile feature-phone brand on the planet to lowly ‘also-rans’ in the smartphone race.

Nokia’s legendary early handsets created the mass market appeal of mobile phones, and in the 1990’s there was no such thing as the brand-hopping consumer. People just bought Nokia. And that’s all they bought.

But, when Steve Jobs entered the stage in 2007 and unveiled the iPhone, Nokia’s fall from the mobile market summit was swift and brutal. Analyst firm Gartner placed Nokia’s smartphone market share in 2007 at a leading 49.4%. In following years, it was 43.7%, then 41.1%, then 34.2%.

In the first half of 2016, it is down to just 3%.

Industry impact:

“Nokias poured into the second-hand mobile phone market as people looked to cash-in on their old handsets and upgrade to the latest smartphone. The kitchen drawer became the graveyard for old unwanted phones.”

“Nokia handsets like the classic 3310 remain the backbone of the second-hand mobile phone market, with millions of these older feature-phone handsets being traded around the world every day.”


The rise of Apple

The King is dead, long live the king!

Nokia’s late-noughties fall from grace was predominantly down to the exploits of Apple and the all-conquering iPhone, which has come to symbolise the modern smartphone era. Since the iPhone’s launch in 2007, many tech commentators have attempted to compare and contextualise Apple’s impact on the consumer technology market, with the majority of tributes to the world-famous brand focussing either on the unquestionable selling success of Apple’s products or the magnetism and shrewdness of the late Steve Jobs. But Apple did more than just sell phones by the ship-load – they completely redefined our connection with technology.

Consumers quickly reprioritised what they wanted from their mobile technology, placing design aesthetic and brand loyalty above traditional qualities, such as basic functionality and reliability. Apple’s mantra of beautifully-designed technology has become the benchmark for all facets of modern consumer electronics.


Industry impact:

“The average value of second-hand devices shot up after the iPhone was released. Mobile phones were no longer pure telephony devices; they were sophisticated, handheld computers and the technology on board was now worth hundreds of pounds, even in the pre-owned mobile phone market.

Apple products were so desired, there was a stampede of people looking to sell their old phone and use the cash to buy a new iPhone – the second-hand market was flooded with old Nokias and tired-looking BlackBerrys in early 2008.”


Upgrade culture

Arguably the most profound change in the mobile phone recycling industry has been consumers’ attitude towards brand relevancy and gadget obsolescence.

The rate at which consumers upgrade their mobile phones has quickened considerably over the last decade. Technological advances and the introduction of software ecosystems and updates has created a world whereby mobile phones are rendered obsolete almost as soon as they are unboxed.

This handset churn has also been accelerated by the aggressive marketing tactics of the big mobile operators, dangling the carrot of more data and newer phones if you upgrade to the latest model.
This upgrade culture has seen newly-addicted mobile phone enthusiasts flooding to sites such as CultofMac and TechCrunch to keep abreast of the latest news, gossip and stories, ensuring the upgrade ethos fuels itself.

Industry impact

“People no longer hang on to a mobile phone for longer than a year. The upgrade culture has seen the mobile phone recycling industry boom as people realise that there exists a whole second-hand mobile phone ecosystem which they can tap into and get some cash back on old, outmoded mobile phones.”


Data is everything

The relationship we have with our mobile phones and the way we use them has changed dramatically in the past decade. There was a time when minutes and texts were all people cared about and the networks were falling over themselves to try and offer the consumer better value packages, throwing more call minutes and bundles of free text messages at the latest handsets.

With the rise of internet-ready devices, the world began craving data and the capacity to stream, surf and download, on the go. With this added functionality came the rise of the mobile app, mobile gaming and a fundamental change in our relationship with our mobile phones.


Industry impact

“Internet-ready devices and our thirst for cheap data has had a massive impact on the mobile phone recycling industry. The leap from feature-phone to smart technology has resulted in millions of internet-ready devices being resold in developing nations around the world, opening up new channels in commerce and communication.”


Supercomputer in your pocket

It’s difficult to fathom, at times, that a child with a smartphone has access to greater computing power and has more advanced telecommunications capability than the President of the United States had 30 years ago. This is the reality of the mobile phone industry’s technological leap forward – we each carry a supercomputer in our pockets.

Smartphones are not only the most ubiquitous consumer electronic on the planet, their effect on society and our behaviour is also the most far-reaching. With a smartphone to hand, we have the capacity to outsource our lives like never before, build connections on the move and access the world’s information whilst sat on the loo or running for a bus – truly game-changing.

With all this power at our fingertips, no wonder smartphone addiction is on the rise and the lines between our digital lives and the physical world is becoming increasingly blurred.


Industry impact

“Went smartphone technology became filtering down into the mobile phone recycling industry, the average resale price for mobile phones doubled. In the pre-iPhone era, the average price Fonebank paid for a mobile phone hovered around the £20 mark, in the months following the original iPhone’s release, that price shot up to beyond £40.

The average price we now pay for a mobile phone is closer to £100, and this looks set to increase still further as the technology in our pockets becomes ever more sophisticated”


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