New research from Nielsen shows a huge jump in Australia's mobile media consumption. This supports data from Cisco showing that mobile downloads are on the increase, but that doesn't mean we're big consumers of data overall.
The Nielsen report (PDF), the Australian Online Consumer Landscape, shows that 81 per cent of Australians (aged 16+) are active online users, the fifth-highest level of internet penetration in the world. It also shows a rapid take-up of mobile devices in Australia, with 51 per cent of online users owning a smartphone. Ownership of tablet computers also doubled this year to 18 per cent (and is forecast to reach 39 per cent by 2013).
None of this is surprising. Cisco has predicted for some time that we would be fast on mobile adoption in this country. The company's Visual Network Index predicts consumer downloads from mobile devices will jump from 3.5 petabytes (3500 terabytes) in 2010 to 127 petabytes by 2015 — a 36-fold increase. By comparison the US will see a 20-fold increase over the same period.
In fact, our fascination with mobile data seems extraordinarily strong. By 2015 mobile data will account for 31 per cent of all consumer internet downloads in Australia. In the UK only 11.7 per cent of all consumer downloads are forecast to come from mobile devices in 2015; in the US and Canada the figure is projected to be just 4 per cent.
Why the big difference? It's not that the rest of the world is slow to pick up on mobile data, it's more a case that Australia has fallen so far behind the rest of the world in fixed data downloads. If we aren't consuming content at home over our fixed connections while other countries are, of course the proportion of mobile to fixed downloads is going to be higher in Australia than in those countries.
All together, if you add our fixed and mobile data consumption together and you can see (from the chart) that, when calculated on a per capita basis, we download only 12 per cent of what an average US citizen does. We'll play catch-up a little by 2015, but even then Australians will still only download one-third of what Americans do.
(Credit: Phil Dobbie/ZDNet Australia)
It's a depressing prediction for a country rolling out a high-speed fibre-to-the-home network. The UK, which is rolling things out a little faster, is expected to leap closer to the US benchmark. Unfortunately, Cisco's figures are less optimistic about the impact of the National Broadband Network. Perhaps, after the Queensland election, they're right to be pessimistic — with a change of federal government there's a chance the thing will never be finished.
The big driver of growth in data consumption is, of course, video. We'll have less of it in Australia because the constraining factor is not just the connection into the home, it's the pipes under the oceans that connect us with the rest of the world. Perhaps, if we want to keep up with everyone, that's where government money needs to go. Otherwise our influence in the global digital economy could be very small indeed — about as small as the screens on our smartphones.