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Consumers spend less cash on connectivity, but more time online

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Average monthly household spending on fixed and mobile voice and data services fell to £87.12 in 2017, marking the first decline in spending on connectivity in five years, but households are spending much more time online, according to Ofcom’s latest Communications Market Review (CMR).

Total monthly spend on communications, which includes TV, radio and postal services, amounted to £124.62, down from £126.12 in 2017, which means about 5.2% of household spending is now on communications services, down from 5.4% in the 2016 report.

Broken down between fixed and mobile services, spend on fixed actually rose by 26p to £41.13, while spend on mobile dropped by 98p to £45.99.

Ofcom’s Ian Macrae, director of market intelligence, said that with mobile data usage rising, it was clear that consumers were getting more for less as mobile network operators (MNOs) roll out new data deals and bundled services such as Netflix in an attempt to win new customers.

Meanwhile, he said, the rise in spend on fixed services reflected increasing take-up of superfast broadband services, and a small amount of spend on ultrafast full-fibre products, which tend to have a higher price.

However, Macrae cautioned against suggesting that more take-up of full-fibre broadband and the eventual roll-out of 5G would necessarily see households start to spend significantly more in the next few years.

“Generally, people are getting more from fixed and mobile connections without very significant changes in standards,” he said. “It has been very stable at about 5% of household spend for a decade or more.”

The annual CMR report provides a broad snapshot of how UK consumers engage with communications services, TV, radio and post. The 2018 report, the 15th produced by the regulator, marked a decade of digital transformation since the 2008 launch of the Apple iPhone. According to the data, 78% of UK adults now possess such a device, as do 95% of 16 to 24-year-olds.

This year’s report revealed the extent to which the smartphone is becoming the device of choice for accessing the internet for consumers. In contrast to a decade ago, most people now say they need and expect an internet connection wherever they go, something that has only become truly possible with the advent of mobile broadband services.

It also revealed that Brits check their devices every 12 minutes, on average, throughout the day. Two in five are on their phones within five minutes of waking up in the morning (two-thirds in the under-35 age group), and just over one-third check their phone five minutes before going to bed (two-thirds of under-35s).

The people who took part in Ofcom’s research discussed their attitudes to the internet, with three-quarters saying better access to the internet kept them closer to friends and family, but many were alert to some negative effects.

Half of people said their lives would be more boring if they couldn’t get online, about 34% said they felt cut off without the internet, and 29% said they felt lost without it. At the same time, however, 10% said being offline made them feel more productive, and 10% said they found it liberating.

For significant numbers of people, being online has negative effects. Some 15% agree that it makes them feel they are always at work, and more than half (54%) admit that connected devices interrupt face-to-face conversations with friends and family. More than two in five (43%) also admit to spending too much time online.

“Over the last decade, people’s lives have been transformed by the rise of the smartphone, together with better access to the internet and new services,” said Macrae.

“Whether it’s working flexibly, keeping up with current affairs or shopping online, we can do more on the move than ever before. But while people appreciate their smartphone as their constant companion, some are finding themselves feeling overloaded when online, or frustrated when they are not.”

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