Ofcom finds smartphones overtake laptops as UK’s main internet device

The UK telecoms regulator’s 2015 Communications Market Report finds that a 33% of internet users see their smartphone as the most important device for going online, compared to 30% for laptops.

This marks quite a major change from the findings in last year’s report, which showed that 40% of UK consumers still identified laptops as their primary internet access device, compared to just 22% for smartphones.

Ofcom puts this down to a surge in smartphone ownership, with two thirds of adults now carrying one around. Unsurprisingly 90% of 16-24 year olds have a smartphone, but the growth in ownership seems to owe a lot to older punters belatedly getting the memo and half of them now owning a smartphone, more than double the level of three years ago.

Ofcom 2015 market report operator 4GThe other main underlying reason for this growth identified by Ofcom is the rapid increase in 4G subscriptions. Over the course of 2014 UK 4G subscriptions increased almost ten-fold from 2.7 million to 23.6 million. On the whole 4G users are doing almost twice as much online than 3G ones and spending more time surfing the web than on PCs.

“Smartphone users with 4G are shopping online more than those without 4G (55% of 4G users do this compared with 35% of non-4G users); banking more online (55% versus 33%); watching more TV and video clips online (57% versus 40%); making more face-to-face and voice calls over the internet (28% versus 20%); using services such as Snapchat to send more photos and videos (49% versus 36%); and instant messaging more with services such as WhatsApp (63% versus 50%).” said the report.

All this 4G smartphone goodness doesn’t seem to be making it onto the bottom line for UK operators, however, with 2014 continuing the trend of declining revenues. Ofcom attributes this mainly to a 0.8 (12.%) decrease in wholesale revenue due to cuts in call termination rates. Here’s Ofcom’s full operator data table.

Ofcom 2015 market report operator table

“Today’s report shows just how important reliable, fast internet access is to millions of consumers and businesses,” said Sharon White, Ofcom Chief Executive. “Improving the coverage and quality of all communications services across the UK is a priority for Ofcom, for people at work, home or on the move.”

“4G has supercharged our smartphones, helping people do everything from the weekly shop to catching up with friends with a face-to-face video call,” said James Thickett, Ofcom Director of Research. “For the first time, smartphones have overtaken laptops as the UK’s most popular internet device and are now the hub of our daily lives.”

Here’s a gratuitous talking head video.


  1. Avatar Matthew Turner 08/08/2015 @ 8:09 am

    You wrote that “Over the course of 2014 UK 5G subscriptions increased almost ten-fold from 2.7 million to 23.6 million” – don’t you mean 4G?

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 10/08/2015 @ 9:25 am

      Yes, thanks, corrected.

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