UK consumers turning to internet access on the move, says Ofcom

Staying connected while on the move is the key characteristic of the UK communications consumer, according to the latest research from Ofcom

Staying connected while on the move is the key characteristic of the UK communications consumer, according to the latest research from Ofcom.

The communications regulator's latest International Communications Market report shows that UK consumers have a higher than average propensity to own portable devices such as high-end smartphones and laptops, and to use them to access the internet and to communicate, mostly with friends and family.

The study looked at take-up, availability and use of broadband, landlines, mobiles, TV and radio in 17 countries, excluding South Korea, which is the world's leading broadband nation both by speed and uptake.

While UK consumers are the best connected, due to competitive pricing, they are also among the least likely to enjoy access to advanced high-speed communications.

Ofcom said 70% of UK homes had broadband access to the internet, but fewer than one in 50 had "superfast" access compared to 34% in Japan. France, Italy, Germany and Spain were equally poorly served.

The UK's target of a high speed - up to 40Mbps download - fixed connection available to 66% of households by 2015 compared well with other countries, Ofcom said.

Legal arguments over spectrum had delayed the introduction of next-generation mobile broadband, said the watchdog. As a result, UK and French consumers were stuck with a maximum of 7.2Mbps, while Swedes could enjoy 100Mbps on their mobiles.

Ofcom said UK consumers are among the earliest adopters of new communications technologies, and among the best connected for broadband, mobile and digital TV. The UK is also the fastest-growing market for smartphones, especially high-end devices like the iPhone.

Demand for communications remains high despite the economic climate. Consumers were also less likely to cut down on communication bills than on holidays or nights out, Ofcom found.

Germany had the highest landline take-up with 85% of the population having a landline, compared to 84% in the UK. Italy has the highest mobile take-up with 95% of the population owning a mobile phone - 91% in the UK - and the Netherlands has the highest fixed broadband take-up with 85 connections per 100 households, against 70 per 100 in the UK.

Ofcom notes the UK is behind other countries in taking up voice over IP (VoIP) services. There are only five UK subscribers for every 100 people, compared with 26 in France and 20 in the Netherlands, even though the UK VoIP market grew 27% between 2006 and 2009.

"VoIP services tend to be more popular in countries where there is high demand for international calls or where broadband is available to consumers without the need for a landline services (also known as naked DSL)," said Ofcom's report.

Most countries preferred to access the internet via a desktop PC, but 69% of UK consumers preferred to use a laptop PC, with 29% saying they used their mobiles.

Mobility is also featured in the use of apps, where the number of UK users of online maps and navigation grew 86% since 2009, with nine in every 100 people in the UK using them, compared to five in every 100 people in France and Germany.

Almost a quarter of UK consumers used their mobiles for social networking compared to 13% in Germany. Mobile social networking was also higher across all age groups in the UK than other countries, Ofcom said.

Australians were the leaders in messaging, with 254 text and picture messages per person per month. Ireland had 218 and the UK 140.

Nine out of 10 UK homes have a digital TV, of which 59% are HD-ready. But take-up of HDTV services was lower in the UK because there were fewer available HDTV channels.

UK consumers watched more TV, at 225 minutes a day compared to the average of 207. However, US viewers led the world with 280 minutes a day.

UK consumers had 7.8 million pay-TV digital video records such as Sky+ and V+ at the end of 2009, up 40% on 2008. Just under a quarter said they watched TV on the internet every week. This rose to 45% when asked whether they had ever accessed TV content on the internet.

Only Ireland had fewer local TV stations (six) than the UK (nine). "Italy has an estimated 631 and the US has 4,758 local terrestrial TV services. The UK government has identified this area as a development priority," Ofcom said.

The UK was cheaper for four out of the five communications baskets - landline phone, mobile phone, broadband - than France, Italy, Germany, Spain, USA, but once pay-TV was included, pricing in the UK was comparatively more expensive, Ofcom said.

Much of the difference in prices was due to lower mobile prices in the UK although this was narrowing. Fixed-line prices were also lower in the UK but increased over the same period whereas they fell in other countries, it said.

Ofcom found UK consumers spent twice what Germans spent online by £1,031 to £595.

The UK bought more internet advertising (27% of ad spend) than other countries, Ofcom said. Global ad spend was down 13% to £254bn in 2009. Most of this - 38% of total, down 9% - went on TV but internet ad spend grew 1% to £37bn

Mobile ad spend per capita was picking up, with advertisers in Japan spending £5.57 per head compared to the UK at £1.14.

Telecoms revenues declined in seven of the 17 comparator countries, up from three in 2008. Mobile revenue increases were lower than increases in take-up and use, Ofcom said. Mobile connections rose 16.3% and call volumes 14.7%, but revenues rose just 2.7%.

Only in the UK did fixed broadband revenues fall. This was a result of increased take-up of lower cost unbundled local loop broadband services as part of double- and triple-play bundles, Ofcom said.

The comparator countries in the Ofcom study were France, Germany, Italy, US, Canada, Japan, Australia, Poland, Spain, Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland, Brazil, Russia, India and China. Ofcom used a sub-set for some of its analysis.

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