Carrier Evolution

One has to be careful about interpreting Internet or broadband usage trends. In past years, some observers have argued there is a significant “digital divide,” using statistics about Internet or broadband usage (people who buy and use that product or capability) rather than broadband or Internet “availability” (the service actually is available to purchase).

A decade ago, access mostly was measured by activity occurring only on the fixed networks, as well.

The point is that the difference between whether a product is available, and whether a consumer chooses to buy it, is highly significant. A “digital divide” argument assumes that a product such as broadband access is statistically “unavailable,” meaning there is an “access to the product” problem. Lower availability in rural or sparsely-populated areas is one form of the argument.

The latest study of mobile broadband behavior shows the relevance of the distinction between “available to buy” and “I want to buy it.”

About 17 percent of mobile phone owners do most of their online browsing on their phone, rather than a computer or other device, the Pew Center Internet & American Life Project reports.

Young adults and non-whites are especially likely to use their mobile phones for the majority of their online activity, the researchers say.

Nearly half of all 18 to 29 year olds (45 percent) who use the Internet on their mobile phones do most of their online browsing on their mobile device, the study found.

Half (51 percent) of African-American mobile Internet users do most of their online browsing on their phone, double the proportion for whites (24 percent). Two in five Latino cell internet users (42 percent) also fall into the “cell-mostly” category.

Digital marketing specialist Troy Brown, president of one50one thinks Hispanics generate 50 percent of their Internet traffic from mobile phones.

The important implications here are that people might prefer to use mobile Internet and mobile broadband, rather than fixed access, in numbers that are significant.

Additionally, those with an annual household income of less than $50,000 per year and those who have not graduated college are more likely than those with higher levels of income and education to use their phones for most of their online browsing, Pew researchers say.

In that sense, the adoption of mobile broadband might be a rational choice, similar to adoption of mobile “as voice,” when people choose to use a mobile exclusively for their voice service. In fact, we might already have reached the point where further growth of fixed network broadband connections is limited or slowed because users have better mobile alternatives.

The Pew data also suggests that mobile broadband has been particularly important to populations that in the past have “under-indexed” for use of fixed network broadband. The point is that, aside from buyer preferences being at play, fixed network broadband purchases increasingly are not suitable measures of “broadband adoption.”

When 17 percent of mobile users report “mostly” using their mobiles for Internet access, any metrics of adoption that ignore mobile access will be misleading.