Online telephony appears to be gaining momentum in the US, according to research from the Pew Center. Nearly 1/4 of adult Internet users in the US (24%) have placed phone calls online. That amounts to 19% of all American adults. Five percent of US Internet users are placing phone calls online on any given day.

The latest figures are “marked increases from previous readings in surveys,” according to the latest study done as part of the Pew Center’s Internet & American Life Project. In February 2007, Pew project researchers found that 8% of Internet users (6% of all adults) had placed phone calls online, and 2% of them were making calls online on any given day.

Why the marked increase? The Pew project team posits several factors:

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  • Cost: Internet phone calls are cheaper;
  • Availability: VoIP is now more widely available on smartphones, tablets and other handheld devices–7% of cell phone owners said they had participated in video calls or online chats with their handheld device;
  • Familiarity: More and more Americans have become familiar with Internet phone calls, including video telephony, particularly as a result of services offered by the likes of Skype and Vonage, as well as growing use of VoIP at work, at school and socially.

“It is interesting to note that the percentage of American internet users who have placed phone calls online is now about the same as the percent who were aware in 2004 that it was possible to use the internet for phone calling,” the Pew Center team points out. Twenty-seven percent of respondents in the Pew team’s 2004 survey said they were aware of VoIP.

The wording of questions may have also factored into the larger figures. This was the first time that Pew Internet had asked the question using this wording: “Please tell me if you ever use the internet to make a phone call online, using a service such as Skype or Vonage’ / Did you happen to do this yesterday, or not?” Specifically mentioning Skype and Vonage may have made a difference in participants’ responses, according to Pew.

The latest findings also indicate there are “notable differences tied to socio-economic factors”:

  • American men and women are equally likely (24%) to have made Internet phone calls;
  • Younger adults 18-29 are the most likely (27%) to have made phone calls over the Internet;
  • Higher income adults, those earning >=$75,000, are more likely to have made them (36%);
  • Those with higher levels of education, undergraduate degrees or higher, are more likely to have used VoIP (35%);
  • Suburban dwellers (27%) are more likely to have done so as compared to urban (25%) and rural residents (13%).

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