Over two million adult Australians – 12 percent of the adult population – have gone exclusively mobile, dispensing with fixed-line telecommunications services.
The finding by market research firm Roy Morgan is contained in a new research report by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
The number of people turning to mobile phones to service all their telecommunications needs increased by 300,000 in the space of a year.
Most of those people were aged between 25 and 34 and – perhaps surprisingly – a higher percentage came from regional Australia than in city areas.
Also surprising is that people who are mobile-only have roughly the same internet usage profiles as those who do – including when it comes to consuming entertainment.
However, this could change markedly if the research is repeated next year.
Hugh Clapin, who manages the ACMA's research and analysis section, said the current dataset is from December 2014, pre-dating the local arrival and rapid uptake of Netflix and its rivals such as Presto and Stan.
“It’s only in the past few months that we’ve had a big surge in subscription on-demand services,” Clapin told Information Age.
“We’re going to be watching with a lot of interest any data that tells us more about the impact this has over the next six to 12 months.”
One of the risks of ditching fixed-line connections entirely and going exclusively mobile is that users will miss out on future experiences underpinned by high bandwidth applications.
The rabid appetite for bandwidth by Netflix users has been well-documented.
Demand for Netflix has been such that it saturated fixed infrastructure and degraded performance for all internet users.
Internet service provider iiNet’s chief technology officer Mark Dioguardi noted that Netflix traffic on its network grew from 3 percent to 25 percent in just one month.
Part of the reason for the astronomic growth figures is that iiNet and Optus provide unmetered access to Netflix – a model that would be uneconomic for mobile carriers to follow.
It means anyone who goes exclusively mobile risks being shut out from a future that is dominated by high bandwidth-consuming services.
Dioguardi confirms as much: 3G, 4G and satellite networks, quite simply, are "not going to cut it" for future streaming services.
All of which means that the trend towards exclusively mobile use has the potential to widen the internet divide, creating more ‘have nots’ that can’t participate in new digital services because their connections lack quota.
The other issue to consider is whether the rise in exclusively mobile users is by choice.
The ACMA, unfortunately, did not delve into users’ motivations for switching off fixed services altogether.
Exclusively mobile users might do it out of choice or because of a lack of choice in the availability or performance of local fixed-line services.
For example, the larger percentage of regional users going mobile exclusively could be because there are no ADSL ports left at the local exchange for them to connect to.
The ACMA’s research also tracks two other types of mobile user.
One type accounts for 5.2 million or 29 percent of adult Australians – those who ditch fixed-line telephony at home and just use their mobile for voice.
The other is those who ditch fixed-line internet at home and go fully mobile broadband. This accounts for 3.9 million adult Australians.