Smartphones have become the most popular device for getting online, Ofcom reveals today, with record ownership and usage turning Northern Ireland into a ‘smartphone society’.
Smartphones are now in the pockets of nearly two thirds (63%) of Northern Ireland adults, up from 21% in 2011.
Ofcom’s 2015 Communications Market Report, published today, finds that smartphones have overtaken the laptop as the preferred way for internet users in Northern Ireland to get online.
Some 37% of Northern Ireland internet users say their smartphone is the most important device for staying connected, compared to 26% who are sticking with their laptop.
UK-wide research shows that the vast majority (90%) of 16-24 year-olds now own a smartphone; but 55-64 year olds are also joining the smartphone surge, with ownership in this age group more than doubling since 2012, from 19% to 50%.
People are increasingly relying on their smartphones to get around, check the weather, update social media and capture memorable moments. In the process, they are racking up nearly two hours (1 hour and 54 minutes) on these devices every day.
Elsewhere, Ofcom’s Communications Market Report reveals another rise in tablet ownership in Northern Ireland. Fifty four per cent of households now have one of these, up from just 2% in 2011.
Linked to the rise in smartphone and tablet ownership, there has also been a marked increase in the amount of time people in Northern Ireland spend online, up from 13 hours and 48 mins a week to 21 hours and 36 minutes a week. This is above the UK average and highest of the four UK nations.
Looking at the infrastructure used to deliver these services, the report shows that 77% of premises in Northern Ireland have access to superfast broadband services (>30Mbits/s), which is higher than Scotland but lower than Wales and England.
However, broadband take-up in Northern Ireland is below the UK average, with 72% of homes having a broadband connection (fixed and mobile) compared to 80% for the UK as a whole.
Meanwhile, latest figures show 4G mobile coverage from at least one operator was available to 91.1% of premises in Northern Ireland in May 2015. This was the second highest of the UK nations, behind England.
Continuing the online theme, Ofcom’s research highlights how technology is influencing how people communicate. Some 57% of internet users in Northern Ireland say that these new communications methods have made life easier, but 20% say they spend too much time online.
Facebook remains the most popular social networking website with 65% of adults saying they have used the site, followed by Whatsapp (40%) and Twitter (33%). Nearly a quarter of adults (23%) admit to being “hooked” on social media.
Meanwhile, a majority of adults express concerns about sharing personal information online, and 13% have posted things online they wish they hadn’t.
Ofcom’s research also reveals that, among adults online in Northern Ireland, some 18% have used dating websites - with almost half having made new friendships through them.
Despite the rise in online activity, traditional media remains popular. Ofcom’s research shows that TV is still by far the most important source of news in Northern Ireland, followed by radio and newspapers.
And while people are watching marginally less TV, demand for paid-for television services through satellite, cable and other platforms is still high. More than 70% of households in Northern Ireland subscribe to a pay TV service, higher than every other UK nation.
Jonathan Rose, Ofcom Northern Ireland Director, said: “Northern Ireland is becoming a nation of smartphone users, with these devices now overtaking the laptop as the preferred way of getting online.
“The continued expansion of 4G services should mean further growth in the year ahead, as consumers take advantage of new features and apps that exploit the increased speed offered by this technology.
“But not everyone has access to good broadband and mobile coverage. Ofcom wants to see the widest possible availability of communications services and is considering what further options might be available to improve coverage, both mobile and fixed-line broadband, as part of its Digital Communications Review.”
In the coming weeks, Ofcom will publish maps enabling consumers to compare operators’ mobile coverage throughout the UK. The maps will enable users to zoom to a specific location, or simply enter a place name or postcode, and receive data on coverage for each mobile network - down to 100 square metres.