Smartphone-Only Internet Access in U.K. Grows to 16%, Up 10% in One Year

A study sponsored by Ofcom might suggest that 16 percent of U.K. Internet users rely on devices such as smartphones and tablets for online access, and do not primarily use fixed Internet connections.

In 2014, mobile-only access was at about six percent. Ofcom therefore suggests that use of computers for online access has decreased by 10 percentage points--from 81 percent to 71 percent--since 2014.

One might argue that a qualitative survey also sponsored by Ofcom shows the complexity and nuances of smartphone-based Internet access that could have implications for developing regions as well.

“The extent to which smartphones are liberating or limiting for these participants is complex, nuanced and highly dependent on their circumstances,” Ofcom says. “In addition, the perceived price of using data lead many users to limit usage.”

In fact, “heavy reliance on smartphones may inhibit users from developing alternative digital skills, such as typing,” the survey suggests. Perhaps that will not be a limitation, eventually, but Ofcom suggests lack of such skills is a job-affecting circumstance.

Also, many users who were mobile-only had more-limited skills in terms of technical troubleshooting and file and information management, Ofcom says.

Aside from other issues, the cost of mobile data was an issue. “The limitations of smartphones as a primary means of going online, across all parts of the sample, included the perceived pressure to complete tasks quickly to prevent the erosion of their data allowances,” Ofcom notes.  

“Creating, editing and sharing any document of length in office software applications (e.g. MS Office) was seen as almost impossible for most participants,” the report notes.

Those issues were largely experienced by users who were smartphone based by circumstance (low income, no at-home fixed network access, no home PC, for example), not choice (some users have jobs where they are highly mobile, so phone-based access is seen as an advantage).


The implication might be that smartphone-based access, which will be the way most people, in many regions, will use the Internet, does pose some challenges.

The cost of using mobile data is an issue. The difficulty of creating and manipulating documents and files are other issues.
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