The number of mobile phone calls being made in the UK has dropped for the first time, with text-based communications continuing to take over, according to the telecoms regulator Ofcom.
Ofcom compiles a 'Communications Market Report' once a year, and this time round it found SMS use to be soaring, along with the use of social networking as a means of communication. Fixed-line voice calls have been in decline for some time, but the drop in mobile voice calls is unprecedented.
The overall time spent talking on mobile phones dropped by one percent in 2011, Ofcom said. The volume of landline calls went down by 10 percent, making the total drop in voice-call volume five percent.
This fall comes despite the fact that the average cost of making a mobile voice call is now about the same as that of making a fixed-line call. Ofcom noted that, for the first time, the majority of call volumes — 52 percent — came from mobile.
Unsurprisingly, the shift away from voice appears to be led by teenagers and young adults. Ofcom said 96 percent of 16-24 year olds use "some form of text-based application" each day to communicate with friends and family.
SMS is used by 90 percent of this age group on a daily basis, and social networking by 73 percent. Only 67 percent make mobile phone calls on a daily basis and — according to Ofcom's survey — only 63 percent talk face-to-face with friends and family every day.
"Our research reveals that in just a few short years, new technology has fundamentally changed the way that we communicate," Ofcom research director James Thickett said in a statement. "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."
Ofcom pointed out that the change was brought about by a "rapid increase in ownership of internet-connected devices". The average UK household now owns three types of internet-enabled device (smartphones and laptops, for instance) and 15 percent have six or more such gadgets.
One in 10 adults have an e-reader and 39 percent now own a smartphone — 12 percentage points up on the previous year. Ofcom pointed out that this rise was accompanied by a drop in the use of PCs and laptops for activities such as watching video clips and sending messages.
"Overall, the time spent using the internet on mobile devices is up by a quarter (24.7 percent) year on year, with the overall volume of mobile data consumed doubling in the 18 months to January 2012," the regulator noted.
Tablets seem to be taking off, judging from Ofcom's figures — two percent of UK households had one in early 2011, but 11 percent were toting tablets a year later. Entertainment is the most popular use for the devices, followed by email and social networking. Many users indicated they spend more time social networking, now that they have a tablet.
Interestingly, nine in 10 tablet owners mainly use their slab at home.
Ofcom's report also contained several statistics about broadband. The number of fixed broadband connections passed 20 million in 2011, and the number of mobile broadband connections passed five million. In total, 76 percent of UK homes were hooked up to broadband connectivity of some kind.
However, a fall in wholesale telecoms revenues meant total UK telecoms revenues were down 1.9 percent last year.