Carrier Evolution

If one believes that Verizon actually is moving towards a future that could someday find it exiting the consumer fixed network business, then new research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project will provide evidence for why that possible future move could make more sense than it does today.

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.

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.

When asked for the main reason why they do so, respondents indicated convenience, appropriateness and access were primary drivers of activity.

Some 64 percent of cell-mostly Internet users say “convenience” or the “always-available” nature of mobile phones were reasons for conducting more Internet-related activities on the mobile device.

But ease of use and situational appropritateness also seem to be reasons for using a mobile as a primary Internet access channel. Some 18 percent of mobile-mostly Internet users say that their online habits (or the habits of those around them) make their cell phone a simpler, more effective choice for going online.

Also, not every user requires a fixed connection. About seven percent of users say that they do mostly basic activities when they go online and do not require a more advanced device, while six percent say that they simply find their mobile phone to be easier to use than a traditional computer.

About 10 percent of cell-mostly Internet users say a lack of other access options is the main reason why they primarily use their phone to go online, with six percent saying that they do not have access to a computer and four percent saying that they do not have any other source of Internet access beyond their mobile connection.

As fourth generation networks become more available and popular, the percentage of consumer users who might decide mobile-only works will grow.

Most do so for convenience, but for some their phone is their only option for online access. That has obvious implications for the evolution of the broadband access business in the United States. What might now be only a convenience could later change into a preferred behavior, particularly for some users who have access to fourth generation networks and do not watch much online video.

Some 88 percent of U.S. adults own a cell phone of some kind as of April 2012, and more than half of these cell owners (55 percent) use their phone to go online. That, the researchers say, represents a notable increase from the 31 percent of mobile device owners who said that they used their phone to go online as recently as April 2009.

Also, 31 percent of these current cell internet users say that they mostly go online using their cell phone, and not using some other device such as a desktop or laptop computer. That is a significant number, since adoption of most products and services often assumes a faster adoption curve once 10 percent of users are reached.

Telstra, for example, seems to have concluded that getting rights to operate its own fourth generation wireless network was a reasonable exchange for selling all of its fixed network assets to the Australian National Broadband Network, for example.

Might Verizon do the same some day?