Dangerous data: Is the shift away from calls bringing down our phone networks?

Making calls is now just the fifth most frequent use of a smartphone

By Gordon Kelly 18/07/2012 15:34
According to Ofcom text messaging is now the most popular form of daily communication between British adults. 

Dangerous data: Is the shift away from calls bringing down our phone networks?

Drill down into the stats and this equates to 58 per cent of UK adults sending at least one text message everyday compared to 47 per cent making at least one phone call per day. What are we to make of this? The first point is that this doesn't tell half the story.


Look back less than three weeks and O2 published a report which claims making calls is now just the fifth most frequent use of a smartphone.

"Apparently smartphone users spend a little over 12 minutes on average making calls each day"

...that's less than half the time they spend surfing the web.


Making calls also fell behind checking social networks, listening to music and playing games while emailing and, yes, texting were just behind. Is smartphone user data relevant, aren't they still a niche?


Actually in February mobile phone industry figures showed over 50 per cent of the UK population own a smartphone and this number is expected to reach 75 per cent in the not too distant future. The masses are finding out that smartphones do a great many things and a lot of them are more fun than making phone calls.


The second point is even more significant: the change in usage is going to make everyone unhappy. From a people perspective the Ofcom report says that, despite this leap in text messaging, British adults would rather meet (67%) or speak on the phone (10%) than communicate by text (5%).

"The disparity shows a shift away from quality of communication towards convenience and quantity of communication."

Aka we do it, but we don't like it.


For our carriers the scenario is even worse as it represents a seismic shift from calls to data. As Graham Stapleton, Chief Commercial Officer at Carphone Warehouse, admits: "Data packages have exploded in the last 12 months... Our insights team has forecast that an extra 12 million people will buy their first smartphone this year. It’s a market that continues to go from strength to strength."


What aren't going from strength to strength are our carriers' network infrastructures. The O2 blackout generated 24 hours of headline news last week and came just days after a similar outage in France stranded 26 million France Telecom customers.

"The networks are bursting at the seams trying to cope with demand."

For the UK in particular the beginning of the Olympics this month bringing an anticipated one million extra tourists into the capital per day is expected to push them beyond breaking point.


The solution to all this is claimed to be 'LTE' - likely to be marketed as 4G - a much faster evolution of the 3G standard. The problem is carriers are still trying to recoup the £22.5 billion they (over)spent acquiring 3G licenses 12 years ago so investment has been slow, embittered legal infighting high and roll-out is several years behind countries previously left in the UK's wake. Ofcom says widespread LTE availability now isn't expected until 2015, until then our newfound love for data is in for a bumpy ride…

Gordon Kelly is a freelance technology journalist who writes for the BBC, Wired, TrustedReviews and the Scotsman newspaper. He was previously news editor at TrustedReviews.com. Follow Gordon on Twitter @GordonKelly and find his website at GordonKelly.com


  • Are our networks being plunged into turmoil?
  • Are are changing habits to blame or have carriers not invested enough in their networks to keep up with demand?


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