UK is text-crazed


Mobile voice calls in decline for the first time ever, as more switch to text and online communications

Texting is still the mobile phone's killer app, as a new report from Ofcom shows that Brits are texting more than ever.

Text-based communications are even surpassing traditional phone calls and meeting face to face as the most frequent ways of keeping in touch for UK adults, Ofcom's Communications Market Report 2012 report showed.

The average UK consumer now sends 50 texts per week, which has more than doubled in four years, with over 150 billion text messages sent in 2011. Almost another ninety minutes per week is spent accessing social networking sites and email or using a mobile to access the internet, while for the first time ever fewer phone calls are being made on both fixed and mobile phones.

Teenagers and young adults are leading these changes, increasingly socialising with friends and family online and through text messages, despite saying they prefer to talk face to face. According to the report, 96% of 16 to 24s are using some form of text-based application on a daily basis to communicate with friends and family; with 90% using texts and nearly three quarters (73%) using social networking sites. By comparison, talking on the phone is less popular among this younger age group, with 67% making mobile phone calls on a daily basis, and only 63% talking face to face.

The report shows that traditional forms of communications are declining in popularity, with the overall time spent on the phone falling by 5% in 2011. This reflects a 10% fall in the volume of calls from landlines, and for the first time ever, a fall in the volume of mobile calls (by just over 1%) in 2011.

These changes in communication habits reflect the rapid increase in ownership of internet-connected devices, such as tablets and smartphones, making access to web-based communications easier. UK households now own on average three different types of internet-enabled device, such as a laptop, smartphone or internet-enabled games console, with 15% owning six or more devices.

Pamela Clark-Dickson, senior analyst for mobile content and applications at Informa Telecoms & Media, commented: 'Ofcom's finding that SMS traffic in the UK has increased by 125.4% over the past four years, from 67 billion messages in 2007 to 151 billion messages in 2011, and at the expense of mobile voice, confirms that SMS remains the most popular form of communication for UK mobile users.

'At a time when over-the-top messaging applications such as WhatsApp, iMessage and KakaoTalk are substituting SMS traffic and revenues in markets such as the Netherlands, Spain and South Korea, most of the UK's mobile operators have successfully used pricing to combat the OTTs, and to stabilise and grow their SMS traffic and revenues.

'The UK market may well provide a model for other countries in which mobile operators are experiencing a decline in their SMS traffic and revenues as a result of their subscribers' use of OTT messaging applications, and especially in those markets where post-paid users outnumber pre-paid users,' continued Clark-Dickson. 'The success of the UK mobile operators' efforts to shift subscribers to post-paid, coupled with their making available of large bundles of SMS or unlimited SMS to post-paid subscribers, at affordable rates, may well prove to be a winning formula to follow for operators in other countries as they seek to reduce the impact of OTT messaging applications on their SMS traffic and revenues.'

Four in ten (39%) adults now own a smartphone, a 12 percentage point increase on 2010. Altogether, 42% of these now say that their smartphone is the most important device for accessing the internet, with over four in ten (42%) regularly using social networking sites and half (51%) using e-mail.

Ofcom's continued research also suggests that smartphones are leading to a substitution between devices. Owners say they are using PC and laptops less for a range of activities since getting a smartphone, including watching video clips (51%) and sending messages (47%).

Ownership of tablet devices, such as Apple's iPad and Samsung's Galaxy Tab, has risen rapidly in the last year from 2% of UK households in Q1 2011 to 11% in Q1 2012. This growth looks set to continue with over a third (34%) saying they could not live without their device and nearly one in five (17%) households saying they intend to buy a tablet in the next year.

Tablet owners (37%) say that they browse the internet more than they did before owning a tablet. While entertainment is the most popular use for tablets, they are also used frequently for checking email (63%) and accessing social networking sites (46%), with nearly a quarter of people (23%) saying they spend more time social networking than they did previously. Two thirds of consumers share their tablet with the other people they live with, while 29% sometimes let other people use their tablet. Despite their portability, 9 in 10 mainly use their tablet at home.

Also, one in ten (10%) UK adults now have an e-reader, with 41% of owners claiming to read more since buying the device. However, owners are reading less on other formats. Six in ten (62%) people said they read less paper-based material since owning an e-reader, driven by a decrease in reading paperback books (60%). One in ten (10%) say they read fewer paper magazines and 8% said they are reading printed newspapers less.

Overall, the time spent using the internet on mobile devices is up by a quarter (24.7%) year on year, with the overall volume of mobile data consumed doubling in the 18 months to January 2012. Smartphones are changing people's shopping habits, encouraging online bargain hunting – or Robo (Research offline buy online) shopping. Over half of smartphone users claim to use their phone in some way when out shopping. This includes taking photos of products (31%), making online price comparisons (25%), scanning bar codes to get more product information (21%), reading product reviews online (19%) and researching product features (19%).

Clark-Dickson added that Ofcom's report makes it clear that even in developed markets such as the UK, where the high penetration of smartphones and mobile broadband are enablers for OTT messaging applications and services, SMS remains a healthy service for mobile operators. 'The continued growth of SMS traffic in the UK owes a great deal to the mobile operators' ability to recognise the extent to which OTT messaging applications and services threaten their SMS traffic and revenues, and to their ability to successful execute an appropriate neutralising strategy,' she said.

According to Informa's own SMS traffic data, three of the four UK mobile operators have experienced increasing year on year growth in their quarterly SMS traffic between 3Q10 and 3Q11; for example Vodafone UK saw its year on year SMS traffic growth rate increase from 28% in 3Q10 to 55% in 3Q11, while O2 UK saw its year on year SMS traffic growth rate increase from 18% in 3Q10 to 47% in 3Q11.

According to Ofcom research, it is anticipated that at least 38 million adults in the UK will tune into the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games on TV. And one quarter of working people plan to follow the Games while at work, with 25% planning to watch or listen to the Games during office hours.

New technology is also likely to have an effect on how people watch the sporting coverage. More than half (53%) of adults agree that it will make accessing coverage easier, while around one fifth (19%) said they are likely to follow developments on many different devices.

Social networking sites will also be used by some viewers to keep tabs on results and medal tables, with over one quarter (26%) of respondents claiming that social networking sites will make following the Games easier.

James Thickett, Ofcom's Director of Research, said: 'Our research reveals that in just a few short years, new technology has fundamentally changed the way that we communicate. Talking face to face or on the phone are no longer the most common ways for us to interact with each other. In their place, newer forms of communications are emerging which don't require us to talk to each other, especially among younger age groups. This trend is set to continue as technology advances and we move further into the digital age.'

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