Ofcom: UK is 'addicted' to smartphones

More than a third of UK smartphone owners say they are 'addicted' to their handsets, using them for Facebook at work and checking emails outside office hours, according to a new report from Ofcom
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

Social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are spurring smartphone adoption in the UK, as people increasingly turn to their handsets for both work and personal use, Ofcom has revealed.

Mobile adictiveness chart

People are increasingly turning to their handsets for both work and personal use, Ofcom has revealed. Image credit: Ofcom

More than a quarter (27 percent) of UK adults own a smartphone, with nearly 60 percent of those saying they had started using one in the past year, the regulator said in its Communications Market Report. Among teenagers, 47 percent have a smartphone.

The annual report, published on Thursday, found that 37 percent of adult smartphone users polled in March admitted to an 'addiction' to their handsets. The figure rose to 60 percent among teenagers.

"Compared to users of 'traditional' mobile phone handsets, smartphone users use their phone more and claim to be more addicted to their phone, leaving it switched on for longer and displaying different social behaviours and work-life balance," Ofcom said.

In addition, the line between the working and private lives of smartphone users is becoming blurred. Thirty percent acknowledged they regularly made personal calls on their smartphone while at work, while 35 percent said they regularly used it for work outside office hours.

On the personal side, the impetus is coming partly from use of social-networking services. Among people who access the internet on their phones, 57 percent visit sites such as Facebook, making it the most popular activity among the group. On the work side, 53 percent of people said they wrote or read emails on their handset.

Ofcom found that the proliferation of smartphones was changing peoples' habits and routines. 82 percent of adult owners carry their handsets with them at all times, 51 percent use them when socialising with other people, and nearly a quarter have used one during a meal with other people present.

Overall, the most popular smartphone brand was the Apple iPhone, but this was usurped by BlackBerry devices among younger consumers.

Broadband and mobile data

The report also noted that 74 percent of people in the UK now have broadband, an increase of three percentage points on the previous year. There was also a rise in people signing up for mobile broadband access, moving from 15 to 17 percent.

With so much data flying across mobile networks, we're starting to see 'digital traffic jams' appear at busy periods.
– George Wareing, Virgin Media Business

"During the last decade, the UK's communications market has been totally transformed. The fast emergence of digital technology has changed the way that communications services work for consumers and has had a major impact on businesses and networks," Ofcom said.

According to the regulator, the volume of data moving across mobile networks rocketed by 67 percent during 2010. George Wareing, head of mobile at Virgin Media Business, said that network providers need to invest in their own backhaul capabilities to avoid sluggish speeds for users as subscriber bases grow.

"With so much data flying across mobile networks, we're starting to see 'digital traffic jams' appear at busy periods, causing mobile internet speeds to decrease," Wareing said. "With more businesses starting to rely on smartphones and mobile connectivity, network operators need to make sure that their network speeds will not be affected by the UK's insatiable appetite for data."

Flat revenue

Despite UK consumers and businesses embracing new technologies, and the growth of mobile usage, Ofcom noted that industry communications revenue has remained essentially flat since 2000. For example, adjusting for inflation, the sector generated £53.4bn in revenue in 2010, in comparison with £54.3bn in 2000.

"One moment we're given to marvel at the fact that the communications landscape has changed so vastly as to be unrecognisable from what it was only a decade ago. The next, we are reminded that the industry revenue for communications in 2010 was the same as it was in 2000 — essentially proving the old adage that technology changes but the share of wallet for this sector stays the same," Nick Wright, customer research and marketing manager at Bill Monitor, said in a statement.

"It's equally... surprising to realise that fixed-line calling minutes still outnumber mobile minutes, despite the fact fixed lines have been declining each year throughout the past decade," Wright added.

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