Historic Switch in Demand Drivers for Fixed Broadband is Occurring

Get ready for a historic shift in the relationship between devices and broadband access accounts. Traditionally, there were more PCs owned than users of the Internet, and more users of the Internet than buyers of household broadband service.

Soon, if not already, there might be more broadband accounts in service than PCs or notebooks that use those networks. That historic reversal would mean a change in the traditional reason for buying broadband access.

Traditionally, the reason for buying broadband access services was for fast Internet access for some sort of PC. These days, there are other reasons.

Some users might want a fixed connection, solely or in part, to offload data sessions from a mobile network to a fixed network, to get access to the Internet from some other devices, such as a tablet or iPod.

Some might want broadband access to support Internet access for game playing consoles or some other video device (Roku, for example) that displays Internet video on a TV. In other words, there are many more devices, other than PCs,  that derive value from a fixed network broadband connection.

In the past, some might have argued that broadband access penetration would approach 100 percent of homes for one simple reason, namely that some users would see video content as the reason to buy broadband, rather than PC access to the Internet.

But there now are all sorts of reasons to buy broadband, beyond connecting PCs to the Internet. Connections for tablets and smart phones are only the latest reasons.

Research firm Consumer Intelligence Research Partners released the results of a study it conducted of more than 1,000 iPad buyers between December 2011 and April 2012. CIRP asked those recent buyers what they're most likely to do with their tablet and found that 40 percent of respondents indicated they surf the Web on the iPad, leading all possible activities.

A separate study sponsored by Business Insider found similar results. That reader survey got 2,242 responses. The Results aren’t really all that different from the first and second surveys. Basically, people use tablets for browsing, web-based communications and other content consumption activities.

In fact, a larger percentage and absolute number of people might soon be finding that connecting devices other than PCs or notebooks to the Internet provides most of the reason for buying fixed network broadband.

Notably, the Business Insider poll suggests 45 percent of users are doing their browsing on a tablet, 24 percent on a notebook and 17 percent on desktop PCs. About 14 percent of browsing now is conducted on a smart phone.

So you might say that 59 percent of browsing activities now occur on devices that really are not the “best” devices for content creation.

Also, as new smart phones start to push towards larger screens, such as the five-inch screen on Samsung Note, there will start to be less difference between smart phones and seven-inch tablets. The point is that much of the use case for a “computing” device these days is Internet-based content consumption.

In the United Kingdom, for example, household Internet access rose to 80 percent in the first quarter of  2012, up three percentage points on the previous year, and for the first time exceeded the penetration of PCs and laptops, according to Ofcom.

Internet access through a broadband connection stood at 76 percent of households, up two percentage points from the first quarter of 2011 but with a different mix between fixed and mobile connections.

Mobile broadband through a dongle or connection built into a laptop declined four percentage points to 13 percent of households in the first quarter of 2012, while fixed broadband household take-up rose five percentage points to 72 percent.

Three-quarters of the mobile broadband decline was among mobile-broadband-only households, while households with fixed and mobile broadband connections fell by one percentage point.

The decline in mobile broadband internet access is likely to have been substituted by the rise in fixed take-up and the increased use of Internet on a mobile phone (up seven percentage points to 39 percent).

Where once it would have been possible to model broadband adoption by tracking “PCs in the home,” that methodology increasingly would be defective. Already, a significant percentage of users rely on mobile broadband, rather than fixed, because they rely on smart phones, rather than PCs, for most of their Internet activities.

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