UK smartphone use hits new high but Brits make less calls than ever

The dominance of data and decreasing importance of voice on mobile has been underlined by the findings of a new Ofcom report which says the amount of time spent on calls has fallen for the first time.

The regulator's annual Communications Market Report (CMR) found that the popularity of over-the-top messaging applications like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger as communications tools meant that just three quarters of Brits considered a mobile phone useful for making calls.

This compared to 92 per cent who viewed their phone as important for web browsing.

Rise of the smartphone

UK smartphone ownership has risen from 17 per cent to 78 per cent since 2008, with Ofcom’s report showing the differences in behaviour over the past decade. Back then, smartphones accounted for 20 per cent of web browsing, but the figure now is 72 per cent.

The average Brit spends 2 hours 28 minutes a day on their handset and checks their smartphone every 12 minutes. Two fifths look at their smartphone within five minutes of waking up.

These trends are having an impact on overall time spent online, with a fifth of Brits spend more than 40 hours a week online. Flexible working and communication with friends and family are the main use cases, but more people feel like they’re cut off from the outside world if they don’t have their phone on them, while some people struggle to separate work and personal lives.

“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 Ian 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’re not.”

Mobile operators might be happy with the increasing amounts of data as it allows them to sell tariffs with bigger data bundles, but the use of OTT services to bypass call and text charges is having an impact on traditional revenues.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.