UK consumers revealed as early adopters of new technologies

02 December 2010

UK consumers are some of the earliest adopters of new communications technologies, new Ofcom research reveals.

We are among the best connected for broadband, mobile and digital TV and the UK has seen the fastest growth in smartphone take-up.

We prefer laptops to desktop PCs, watch more internet TV than anyone else and spend more money shopping online than any of our European neighbours.

At the same time we're also enjoying lower prices for our communications services than many consumers across the world.

All these facts and more are revealed in Ofcom's fifth International Communications Market report.

This annual report looks at take-up, availability and use of broadband, landlines, mobiles, TV and radio in the UK and 16 other countries.

Global communications at a glance

Getting online Student working on computer

  • In most countries the desktop PC is still the most popular device to get online at home, followed by the laptop.
  • But in the UK the opposite is true with by 69 per cent of internet users using laptops to log on at home.
  • The UK is also the only country surveyed where more than half of 18-24s use a device other than a desktop PC to use the internet.
  • Some 29 per cent of UK internet users use their mobile to access the internet at home, second only to those in Japan at 43 per cent.
  • Fourteen per cent of UK and US consumers also use their games consoles to access the web, double the number of German internet users.
  • Internet users in the UK say they made more than double the number of online purchases in the past six months than internet users in any other major European country except Poland (19 and 14 online purchases respectively).  The next country was Germany with nine purchases.
  • In addition, the total value of online purchases internet users said they made in the past six months was highest in the UK with £1,031. This was nearly double the amount spent by internet users in the next-placed country, Germany with £595.

Smartphones, mobiles and social networks A selection of smartphones

  • The UK saw the highest growth in smartphone take-up in the past year (up 70 per cent) although Italy has the highest take-up of smartphones.
  • People in the UK are using their mobile phones for social networking more than in other countries
  • Younger people in the UK are more likely to visit social networking sites on their mobiles than in other countries, with 45 per cent of 18-24s and 38 per cent of 25-34s saying that they did this.
  • The number of social networkers is also higher in the UK than other comparator countries among 18-24s and 55-64s.
  • Eighty-six per cent of 18-24s in the UK say they use the internet for social networking, compared to 77 per cent in France and 48 per cent in Japan.
  • Overall, Italy has the highest percentage of adults who use the internet for social networking at 63.4 per cent, closely followed by the UK and USA at 63.2 per cent.
  • Mobile messaging also continues to grow across the globe with Australia having the highest average use at 254 text and picture messages per person per month.
  • The UK is second biggest text messaging nation in Europe after Ireland, with 140 messages per person per month (218 per person per month in Ireland).

UK leading the way in new TV technologies

  • The UK and Spain lead the way with digital TV take-up at 91 per cent
  • UK consumers are ahead of the rest of the world in take-up of HD ready TV sets (59 per cent of UK households, ahead of the US with 57 per cent).
  • But take-up of HDTV services is lower in the UK than in other countries, where take-up tends to be linked to the amount of HDTV channels available.
  • In the USA, 44 per cent of households have HDTV services with access to 404 HD channels, followed by Japan (43 per cent of households and 130 channels), France (42 per cent and 55 channels) and then the UK (13 per cent and 50 channels).
  • Last year we watched 225 minutes of TV a day - unchanged from 2008 - while US TV viewers watched more TV than in any other country (280 minutes per day).
  • The UK had the second highest number of homes with pay TV DVRs (such as Sky+ and V+) at the end of 2009 with 7.8 million devices, up by 40 per cent on 2008.
  • Just under a quarter of UK consumers say they watch TV on the internet each  week- more than any of the countries surveyed. This rose to 45 per cent when asked whether they had ever accessed TV content on the internet.
  • People in the USA were the second most likely to watch TV on the internet, with a fifth (22 per cent) using the internet to watch TV on a weekly basis.

Lower UK prices for most services

Overall, prices for communications services in the UK compare favourably to those in the comparator countries - France, Italy, Germany, Spain, USA.

In all of the European countries analysed, consumers can make significant savings by buying their communications in bundles. The UK is cheaper for four out of the five baskets (landline phone, mobile phone, broadband) Ofcom compared, but once pay TV is also included, pricing in the UK is comparatively more expensive.

For example, for a basket typical of a family household with four mobile connections of varying use, broadband, landline and a basic pay-TV service, the research finds that the lowest service  prices overall were available  in the UK (£93 a month), followed by France (£106 a month). 

The lowest price for the landline, broadband and TV components is achieved by purchasing a triple-play service in the UK, France, Germany and Spain; however, the cost of this triple-play service is higher in the UK (£37 a month) than in Germany (£32), Spain (£28) and France (£26).

Much of the difference in prices is due to lower mobile prices in the UK although the gap in mobile prices is narrowing as prices fell by 10 per cent in the UK between July 2009 and July 2010, compared to a 25 per cent fall in Italy and a 23 per cent fall in Spain. 

Fixed-line prices are also lower in the UK but increased over the same period whereas they fell in other countries.

Super-fast broadband

  • Fewer than one in 50 households in the UK, France, Italy, Germany and Spain had a superfast broadband connection at the end of 2009.  This compares to 34 per cent of Japanese households.
  • However the UK compares well with its target of 66 per cent of households to have access to next-generation broadband by 2015.
  • New technologies mean mobile broadband speeds have also increased among the comparator countries, with maximum theoretical downloads speeds of 100MBit/s now available in Sweden.


  • Digital radio take-up in the UK was the highest among the countries Ofcom surveyed with almost a third (31 per cent) claiming to own and use a digital radio. Take-up was lowest in Japan (3 per cent) and the USA (7 per cent).
  • Ownership and use of personal media players (such as MP3/MP4 and iPods) was highest in Italy (64 per cent) but was also high in the UK with just over half (52 per cent) of people claiming to own and use such a device.


For more read the full International Communications Market Report