The survey of 700 metropolitan residents, aged 16 years and older, found that Internet usage among younger age groups had reached saturation point. However, growth in older age groups and women using the Internet drove the number of people who had used the Internet at least once up from 65 percent in 2001 to 73 percent in 2003. This was expected to increase to 79 percent in 2004.
The survey also revealed people were logging onto the Internet more often and for longer, with the average number of hours spent online by dial-up users increasing from 5.6 to 6.5 hours in 2003. Broadband users stayed online longer, for an average of 9.3 hours per week.
"Functional services that save time and make life easier such as email, online banking and online bill payment are driving most Internet use now," said James Burge, RedSheriff research director. "The Internet is no longer a novelty to be explored and it has evolved to become one of the essential tools of everyday life for many Australians."
"This means people being ‘always on’ in the case of broadband and Web sites being used for shorter periods, more often. In this scenario people are less forgiving and more demanding of Web sites, especially in terms of ease of use," said Burge.
Online services taking off
Forty-three percent of respondents to the survey used between 6 and ten online services on a regular basis. The most popular services used by the respondents were email (89 percent), product information (59 percent), travel guides and services (52 percent), news, sport and weather updates (52 percent), banking (51 percent) and bill payment (49 percent). The four services to see a boom since 2001 were: messaging, banking, bill payment and airline reservations.
The Gartner Group has predicted that by 2004, 60 percent of real-time communication will be by instant messaging, and the number of people using IM is predicted to more than double to 500 million by 2006. These predictions are supported by the RedSheriff survey, which reported a boom in IM usage among younger Internet users, growing from 25 percent in 2001 to 64 percent in 2003.
Banks have also been successful in migrating business online, with 38 percent of Australian Internet users utilising online financial services at least once per week. Reports from banks that they are seeing a surge in people in the 50-plus age group using online banking are supported by this survey, which reported that "banks have benefited greatly from the maturing of the Australian online population".
Online banking is used by 51 percent of Internet users (compared to 36 percent in 2001), with the most common services utilised being: checking the account balance (90 percent), transferring funds between accounts (78 percent), scheduling payments (48 percent) and transferring money to third parties (47 percent).
The percentage of Internet users purchasing online increased from 32 percent in 2001 to 53 percent in 2003, attributable mainly increases in service such as airline reservations rather than online shopping. However, this can be expected to increase only slightly to 55 percent in 2004, based on the respondents' intentions to purchase online.
Broadband uptake gathers speed
The percentage of Internet users on a broadband connection increased to 20 percent (compared to 86 percent of Internet users having dial-up access), while a year ago it was being reported at 8.6 percent. Twelve percent of survey respondents indicated they planned to upgrade to broadband in the next 12 months, which RedSheriff expects to equate to a 25 percent growth in the number of broadband households over that period if the current promotional push by service providers is continued.
A recent report by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) found that Australians paid a lot more for broadband than their international counterparts, ranking seventh most expensive out of 30 countries. The ITU report said that Australian broadband subscribers paid around 0.44 percent of their monthly income to download 100 kilobits of data, according to media reports. This compared to 0.12 percent in the US, 0.14 percent in Canada and 0.16 in New Zealand.
Email and spam
Almost a quarter of work users (24 percent) estimated they received 40 or more emails a day. According to recent statistics from spam-filtering companies, over half of these emails are spam -- assuming the users aren't employing a spam-filtering service of some kind.
There was a wide range in the number of emails respondents reported receiving per day, with the average being 17. Forty-eight percent of respondents reported receiving up to five and seven percent reported receiving more than 60. People who access email at work reported receiving an average of 27 per day, while home users reported receiving only 14 per day on average.
However, the survey found that no matter how many emails were received, only 64 percent of them were read, on average.