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Leap in 4G subscriptions as Brits use smartphones to get online

Thursday, August 6th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

The number of UK 4G subscriptions leapt from 2.7m to 23.6m in a year, according to a new Ofcom report.

The nearly nine-fold increase during 2014 came as smartphones overtook laptops for the first time as UK internet users’ number one device, according to Ofcom’s 2015 Communications Market Report.

The report, published today, said that at least one 4G mobile broadband service is now available to 89.5% of UK premises, with four in 10 people (42%) able to choose from all four 4G providers – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone.

From 2017, Ofcom rules mean that 98% of premises will have to have an indoor 4G signal from at least one operator.

But the regulator said that although indoor 2G mobile voice coverage currently reaches 98% of people’s homes and offices, there are still 2% – or half a million premises – without a signal.

In the coming months, Ofcom is set to publish maps enabling consumers to compare operators’ mobile coverage throughout the UK, with data on each mobile network down to 100 sq metres.

According to the Communications Market Report, the smartphone has toppled the laptop as the UK internet device of choice.

Two thirds of people now own a smartphone – up from 39% in 2012 – and use it for nearly two hours every day to browse the internet, use social media, do their banking, and shop online.

90% of 16-24-year-olds own a smartphone, but ownership by 55-64-year-olds has more than doubled since 2012, from 19% to 50%.

The surge is being driven by the increasing take-up of 4G mobile broadband, providing faster online access, Ofcom said.


Smartphone users with 4G shop online more than those without 4G (55% compared to 35%).

This includes doing more banking, watching more TV and video clips on line, making more face-to-face and voice calls over the internet, sending more photos and videos via text, and instant messaging more with services such as WhatsApp.

Ofcom CEO Sharon White said: “Today’s report shows just how important reliable, fast internet access is to millions of consumers and businesses.

“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.”

James Thickett, Ofcom Director of Research, added: “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.

“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.”

Almost four in five households now have fixed broadband and around one in three of those are superfast lines delivering broadband speeds of 30Mbps or above, according to Ofcom.

It said that by May 2015, 83% of UK premises were able to receive superfast broadband.

Text message (SMS) use fell for the second consecutive year in 2014, the report said, from 129bn messages in 2013 to 110bn in 2014, largely due to increasing smartphone take-up and use of internet-based communications.

According to the report, “general satisfaction” levels with communications are high, with 86% of adults satisfied with their broadband, both fixed and mobile.

91% of adults are satisfied with their mobile service, and 89% with their fixed-line phone, it said.

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