Mobile broadband boosts economy by billions: ACMA

Australians using mobile broadband services added AU$33.8 billion to economic activity in the country in 2013, according to research commissioned by the ACMA.

A report commissioned by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has said that businesses and households using mobile broadband added AU$33.8 billion in economic activity in Australia in 2013.

The joint report from the Centre for International Economics (CIE) and Analysys Mason found that while mobile communications only counts for 0.2 percent of employment and 0.5 percent of economic activity in the Australian economy, its impact on productivity has been substantial, accounting for AU$33.8 billion in additional economic activity in 2013, contributing 2.28 percent of Australia's total gross domestic product.

A total of AU$7.3 billion of this came from productivity growth from the mobile communications sector itself, while AU$26.5 billion came from time savings reported by businesses. The report surveyed 1,000 businesses, and found a time saving of 2.3 percent for employees in those businesses with access to mobile broadband.

The report measured that between 2006 and 2013, productivity growth was 11.3 percent per year, but would have been 6.7 percent per year without mobile broadband. In that time, prices for mobile broadband were measured to have declined by 8.4 percent per year.

It found that most mobile broadband use came from households at 70 percent, followed by businesses at 28 percent.

Smartphones were said to use an average of 1.7GB of data per month in Australia in 2013, while this is set to rise to 3GB per month by 2017, as the availability of 4G devices and networks increases.

Despite the productivity gains made for businesses using mobile devices, the report found that the majority of the use of mobile devices were mainly for phone calls, followed by emails. Although email could be considered a cloud service itself, the study reported that accessing cloud services was one of the lowest cited uses of mobile devices by businesses.

Businesses reported that the biggest change in the availability of mobile devices was providing access to the internet to employees, and allowing employees to use their downtime productively. Machine-to-machine technologies were also listed as a major change in telecommunications technology.

Businesses in the utilities sector, followed by the transport and postal sector reported the biggest impact in mobile technology saving time or reducing costs to the business. IT, media, and telecommunications reported the lowest impact on their businesses.

ACMA chairman Chris Chapman said in a statement that the research showed the real impact of mobile communications in Australia.

"We know that mobile broadband services and technologies enrich our work and private lives on a daily basis, in ways that were unheard of a decade ago. But with this groundbreaking research, we now see the real dollar value of these daily connections," he said.

ACMA used the report to defend its responsibility for the management of spectrum allocation in Australia.

"In its spectrum management role, the ACMA is constantly seeking to strike a balance between the economic value of the spectrum, the interests of incumbents and their sunk investments, and the pressures of finding practical solutions for other competing and emerging interests," Chapman said.

The Coalition government is currently reviewing the communications portfolio. The libertarian think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs has suggested that the ACMA be handled by the Department of Communications, and said ACMA should be shut down.