Ofcom: UK now a smartphone society thanks to 4G

Smartphones have overtaken laptops as the most popular device for getting online, a new report from regulator Ofcom has revealed, with ownership of the mobile devices reaching new record levels thanks to growing take-up of 4G services.

Ofcom's 2015 Communications Market Report said that two thirds of people now own a smartphone and use it for nearly two hours every day. This was accompanied by a rapid rise in 4G subscriptions, which increased from 2.7 million at the end of 2013 to 23.6 million at the end of 2014. That means the proportion of total mobile subscriptions that were 4G increased to 28 per cent at the end of 2014, compared to just 3 per cent at the end of 2013.

The UK's four mobile network operators -- along with some virtual players -- now offer 4G services. As at May 2015, Ofcom noted that 89.5 per cent of premises had outdoor coverage from at least one 4G mobile network, an increase of 17.7 percentage points since June 2014.

The Ofcom report also noted that in the first quarter of 2015, 33 per cent of internet users saw their smartphone as the most important device for going online, compared to 30 per cent who still prefer laptops. In 2014, just 22 per cent of users turned to their phone first, and 40 per cent preferred their laptop.

James Thickett, Ofcom director of research, said: "4G has supercharged our smartphones, helping people do everything from the weekly shop to catching up with friends with a face-to-face video call. For the first time, smartphones have overtaken laptops as the UK's most popular internet device and are now the hub of our daily lives."

At the same time, the regulator noted that mobile coverage is still falling short of requirements: its target is to ensure that 98 per cent of premises will have an indoor 4G signal from at least one operator by 2017. Even 2G networks are still failing to reach every household, with 2 per cent -- or 500,000 -- homes and offices lacking a signal.

Indeed, consumers' perceptions of coverage still indicate that 2G, 3G and 4G availability can be patchy to non-existent in some parts of the country.

In his recent column, for FierceWireless:Europe, analyst Keith Mallinson noted that the high percentage figures provided by Ofcom are rather misleading. He added that the regulator also stated that "while these aggregate figures for mobile household coverage are encouraging, patchy or non-existent coverage in some locations ('not spots' and 'partial not spots') means there is significant room for improvement."

Meanwhile the Ofcom report also indicated that average monthly household spending on communication services has decreased in real terms, from £122.07 (€173/$189) in 2009 to £117.71 in 2014. Total telecoms revenues fell by 2 per cent year-on-year to £37.4 billion in 2014, largely as the result of falling wholesale service revenues.

For more:
- see Ofcom's 2015 Communications Market Report

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