UK telecommunications revenues fell £0.7bn in 2012, dropping for the fourth consecutive year, as consumers turned increasingly to multiple device mobile access and away from traditional services, Ofcom's Communications Market Report 2013 suggests.
The 10th annual report took a broad look across the entire communications sector in 2012 – including postal services – and mobility, driven partly by improving broadband access and lower prices, was a key theme.
"Average monthly household spend on communication services fell in real terms from £122.42 in 2007 to £113.51 in 2012. This represents a fall of £8.91, or £106.92 per year. The largest decrease in spending over the five-year period was on fixed-line services," wrote Ofcom in its report, out yesterday.
Half of all adult respondents claimed to own a smartphone – that is equivalent to 56 per cent of mobile device owners, and adoption is increasing rapidly.
Uptake of media tablets, though, increased even more rapidly in 2012, from 11 per cent in Q1 2012 to 24 per cent in Q1 2013. Tablet ownership is concentrated among better-earning households, however, and they are mostly used for entertainment, the report said.
Most also own a smartphone and a laptop or desktop PC, it added.
"While the proportion of households with access to the internet remains at 80 per cent, the ways people are connecting continues to change," Ofcom noted.
"Half of respondents (49 per cent) said they personally use their mobile phone to access the internet (up from 36 per cent in Q1 2012), driven by growth in the smartphone market, while just five per cent of households have access to broadband services via a mobile dongle (down from 13 per cent the previous year). Nearly all (98 per cent) tablet owners say they use their tablet to connect to the internet."
About half are regular multi-taskers, using multiple screens, devices or applications simultaneously, according to Ofcom's survey and analysis.
Meanwhile, the behaviours of the so-called "digital natives" – the 16 to 24 age group – suggested the direction of travel for consumers in general, and therefore the businesses and technology resellers that employ and support them.
"Web-based text forms are the most popular method of weekly communication among 16 to 24 year olds (84 per cent) – higher than SMS (80 per cent). The most popular forms of weekly web-based communication among this age group are social networking (66 per cent) and instant messaging (48 per cent).
"Individually each of these are used less than SMS on a weekly basis. Around a third (35 per cent) use micro-blogging sites on a weekly basis," wrote Ofcom.
That said, SMS, email, voice calls on a mobile and social networking all declined significantly in popularity last year as methods of personal communication. SMS and social networking sites both declined by seven percentage points. Email shrank by six percentage points through the year.
However, the use of instant messaging has remained stable, with a quarter (26 per cent) of UK adults using IM for personal communications each week.
Price and speed are at least part of the reason for the increasing popularity of web-based communication services over the older forms of telecommunications service.
Among respondents who use web-based communication services such as IM, internet-enabled voice or video calls (for example Skype), 44 per cent of users who responded to the survey said it was to communicate for less cost.
Forty-two per cent said it was because this method was more immediate.
The 16 to 24s were also more likely to use their mobile phone than a computer for Facebook, Twitter and IM.
The Ofcom report also found that outgoing call volumes from landlines and mobiles both decreased in 2012. The volume of calls from fixed lines fell 7.7 per cent to 103 billion minutes in 2012, while mobile-originated calls fell one per cent to 122 billion minutes.
About a million new fixed broadband connections were purchased in 2012, lifting the total 5.4 per cent year on year to 21.7m. Seventy-two per cent of UK homes had a fixed broadband connection in Q1 2013 – the same as in Q1 2012.
About half a million people have subscribed to the new 4G mobile services so far, or about 0.5 per cent of all UK mobile subscribers.
The report contains data and analysis from a number of studies on broadcast television and radio, fixed and mobile telephony, internet uptake and consumption, and the postal service.
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