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Australia reaches mobile market saturation: ACMA

ACMA's latest telecommunications industry report, tabled in parliament on Wednesday, has revealed that for the first time, Australia's active mobile service tally has declined, indicating that the market has finally reached saturation point.
Written by Leon Spencer, Contributor

For the first time since the introduction of mobile phone services in Australia, the number of active services has contracted, suggesting that the country has finally reached saturation in the sector, according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The ACMA Communications Report 2013-14 (PDF), tabled in parliament on Wednesday, revealed that over the past year, there has been a small decline in operational mobile services in Australia, indicating that Australia's mobile landscape has reached saturation point.

"Mobile services are now at saturation levels, with 2013-14 seeing the first, albeit small, decline in the number of mobile services in operation to 31.01 million mobile services — a 0.3 percent decline on the previous year," the report said. "There is evidence of a similar slowdown occurring in the growth of internet connections, with approximately 81 percent of Australians (14.7 million) having an internet connection in the home, with growth slowing over the past three years."

This is the ninth annual ACMA Communications Report since the organisation's formation in 2005, but this year's edition comes as ACMA works to reduce the amount of data it receives from the nation's telecommunications industry due to the government's legislative crackdown on "red tape".

"As part of the government's commitment to reducing the regulatory burden for business and the community, the ACMA has identified areas where it can reduce reporting obligations on industry participants," said the ACMA chairman Chris Chapman in the foreword of the report. "One of these areas is the data collected from industry for producing this report. Earlier this year, the ACMA sought feedback on proposed reductions in the data sought directly from industry to satisfy reporting requirements under Section 105 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (the Act).

"As a result, the ACMA has substantially reduced the amount of data it collects from industry to produce this year's communications report, while nonetheless retaining a full range of information about industry performance," he said.

However, the organisation has nevertheless identified a number of overarching trends in the country's telecommunications sector, with the report also revealing that Australians are engaging more intensively online, downloading more data, and making greater use of mobile handsets, despite the contraction in mobile services.

"In the six months to May 2014, 68 percent of internet users accessed the internet via three or more devices," it said. "Mobile phones and laptop computers were the most popular devices used by adult Australians to access the internet at May 2014 (76 percent and 74 percent, respectively).

"While use of mobile devices to access the internet has seen significant growth, fixed-line broadband ... nonetheless contributed 93 percent of total growth in data downloads during the June quarter of 2014," it said.

The total volume of data downloaded in Australia during the June quarter of 2014, according to the report, was 53 percent higher than the volume downloaded during the June quarter of 2013 — data downloaded via fixed-line broadband increased by 53 percent, and downloads via wireless broadband increased by 20 percent.

Meanwhile, Australians have continued the shift towards over-the-top and mobile communications for voice services, while the use of digital media also increased, with 44 percent of adult Australians (6.4 million) streaming music, movies, TV programs, video clips, or radio — a 21 percent increase over the past five years.

The report revealed that the number of industry service suppliers increased during the year by 24 communications service providers (CSPs), with the total number of CSPs now at 1,384. There were 208 telecommunications carriers supplying network infrastructure at the end of June 2014.

At the same time, the number of fixed-line telephone connections continued to decline by more than 2 percent, to 9.19 million services, while more than half of 25- to 34-year-olds are now mobile only.

The ACMA said that there was an increase in the average number of computer infections reported under the Australian Internet Security Initiative, up from 16,034 per day in 2012-13 to 25,839 per day at May 2014.

There was also an increase of nearly 550 percent in the number of items of online child abuse and other illegal material referred to law-enforcement agencies during the 12-month period, with the dramatic increase resulting from new investigation techniques.

"The introduction of new software and processes facilitated the investigation of a much greater number of items of child sexual abuse material, with 8,981 individual items being assessed as prohibited or potential prohibited online content," the report said.

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