Research: UK Smartphone Penetration Hits 58%, Tablets At 19%. Brits A Nation Of Online Shoppers: £1,000+ Now Spent Online Per Year

Research put out by U.K. telecoms regulator Ofcom suggests the U.K. leads international markets for mobile device adoption and usage, with mobile social networking a key driver of device sales and use. Internet shopping on mobiles is also on the rise — and the U.K. leads for online shopping generally (across all connected devices), with U.K. consumers now spending more than £1,000 per year buying stuff online.

On the TV front, the U.K. also stands out as an early adopter of on-demand TV watched via the Internet, with Ofcom flagging up the role played by online TV players such as the BBC’s iPlayer in driving national usage.

The regulator has updated its 2012 Communications Market Report adding more up to date data and comparative info for international markets. The annual report maps comms technology adoption and usage  in the U.K. and internationally, comparing the U.K. with France, Germany, Italy, the U.S., Canada, Japan, Australia, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland, Poland, Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Mobile devices

The U.K. has one of the highest penetrations of smartphones of all the researched markets, according to Ofcom — with 58 percent of the population owning a smartphone in 2012, and almost a fifth (19 percent) of U.K. residents owning a tablet.

Meanwhile, U.K. consumers are downloading more data on their mobiles and tablets than users in the other surveyed countries. In December 2011, the average UK mobile connection used 424 megabytes of data — pushing Japan into second place (at 392 megabytes) and the US into sixth (319 megabytes), Ofcom notes.

U.K. consumers also use laptops, smartphones and “other connected devices” more often to access the internet than other nations, according to the report. One-sixth (16 percent) of all website traffic in the U.K. in December 2011 was on a mobile, tablet or other connected device — a rate that Ofcom said was higher than any other country in Europe.

According to Ofcom, social networking is driving “much of the use of mobiles” — especially smartphones — in the U.K. Four in ten (40 percent) U.K. adults use their mobile phones to visit social networking sites, while among 18-24 year olds almost two-thirds (62 percent) do so — a higher proportion than the other countries Ofcom looked at.

Despite the rise of smartphones and tablets in the U.K., the most common way for U.K. consumers to access the Internet in December 2011 was via a laptop — half (51 percent) of U.K. consumers said they used a laptop most often to connect to the Internet, while just six percent preferred smartphones and six percent other connected devices. Just over a third (37 percent) said a desktop computer was their most frequent means of accessing the Internet.

Online shopping

Internet shopping is now more popular in the U.K. than the other countries surveyed by Ofcom. The regulator said shopping online is being “increasingly driven” by the use of mobile devices. More than a fifth (23.1 percent) of U.K. smartphone users used their device to visit retail websites in the whole of 2011 — which Ofcom said is the highest level out of the five largest European countries. Germany was second with 22.6 percent.

Ofcom also notes that U.K. consumers have broken the £1,000-a-year “spend barrier” on Internet shopping — once again, more than any other country covered by the research. In 2011, the per-head spending on e-commerce was £1,083 in the UK, up 14 percent from 2010’s £950. Australia spent the second highest at £842, with Sweden third at £747, according to Ofcom.


The U.K. is the leading country for the adoption of digital video recorders, and on-demand Internet TV, according to Ofcom. Almost a quarter (23 percent) of UK Internet users claimed to watch TV online every week – driven by the popularity of online TV catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer, Sky Go and 4OD. The U.S. ranked second with 17 percent, with Spain third (16 percent).

In other TV-related findings, the U.K. has one of the highest proportions of TV-owning homes with HD screens – at 41 percent, higher than France (18 percent), Germany (28 percent) and Japan (31 percent), but behind the U.S. (49 percent). Meanwhile 15 percent of U.K. consumers own a smart TV — also a relatively high proportion: the same as in France and more than the U.S. (where the figure is 10 percent).

According to Ofcom, the average U.K. viewer watches more than four hours (242 minutes) of TV every day, with only the U.S. (293 minutes) and Italy (253 minutes) watching more.