Only 37 percent of remote Australians use internet via smartphone: ACMA

While the use of internet has increased across the board in both capital cities and non-urban areas, there is still a disparity when it comes to access.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has published a report on telecommunications in regional Australia, revealing that smartphone internet usage has exploded in remote areas -- but still remains 33 percent lower than the percentage of people using it in the capital cities.

The ACMA's Regional Australians online report examined the change in access to internet between June 2011 and June 2015 with a sample size of 15,241 across different regions in Australia: 8,039 from capital cities; 1,403 from major urban areas (regions with populations of 100,000 or more); 4,284 from urban areas (towns with populations of between 1,000 and 99,999); and 1,515 from non-urban areas (those with a population of fewer than 1,000).

In regards to home broadband, access grew by almost the same percentage in major capital cities as it did in non-urban areas, with the former increasing by 18 percentage points to 89 percent and the latter growing by 19 percentage points to reach 80 percent. Major urban areas increased by 13 percentage points to 82 percent, while urban areas grew by 15 percentage points to 79 percent.

The use of mobile broadband across USB modems, portable Wi-Fi modems, wireless modems, internet keys, and SIM cards in either a tablet or laptop grew by 5 percentage points in non-urban areas to 29 percent; 5 percentage points in urban areas, to 28 percent; 3 percentage points in major urban areas, to 26 percent; and 5 percentage points in major capital cities, to 25 percent.

Internet used on smartphones showed a much greater disparity, with just 37 percent of those living in non-urban areas using it, while usage in major capital cities stood at 60 percent. It experienced substantial growth across the board over the last four years, increasing by 37 percentage points in major capital cities; 21 percentage points in non-urban areas; 33 percentage points in major urban areas, to 53 percent; and 31 percentage points in urban areas, to 46 percent.

The ACMA attributed the growth in both fixed and smartphone broadband to the federal government's mobile blackspot initiative and National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout, which are providing more ubiquitous coverage nationwide.

"While those of us living in major capital cities have greater levels of connectivity than those in less populated areas, there is evidence that levels of connectivity in regional areas are improving," the ACMA said.

"This is due, in part, to significant private sector and government investment in telecommunications infrastructure development, evidenced by the National Broadband Network rollout, the Mobile Black Spot Programme, and the broadening availability of a wide range of mobile telecommunications services."

In order to address mobile coverage in remote areas, the government opened the first round of mobile blackspot funding in December 2014, with Telstra and Vodafone securing AU$185 million in government funding to build or upgrade 499 mobile towers across Australia.

In total, Telstra will build out 429 cell towers while Vodafone builds out 70, with the full rollout to be completed within three years.

The government then announced the second round of its mobile blackspot program in early December 2015, providing a further AU$60 million to bring better telecommunications coverage to regional areas.

The NBN's satellite service, meanwhile, will provide home broadband coverage for the 3 percent of the Australian population not living within the FttX, hybrid fibre-coaxial, and fixed-wireless NBN network footprint via the projection of 101 spot beams.

The long-term satellite solution launched its services earlier on Friday, with around 5,000 users to be connected to the satellite service each month, before this scales up to 10,000 connections per month later in the year.

The Regional Telecommunications Independent Review also recently made 12 recommendations on how the government can improve regional access to telco services to leverage connectivity for business, education, health, and personal purposes.