When will mobile internet overtake fixed line internet usage?

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It’s long been predicted that mobile internet usage would overtake fixed-line internet usage. All industry experts agreed that this was a likely scenario. Where they differed in opinion was when this was most likely to occur. Some believed the tipping point would come as early as 2010; others were more cautious believing that it may not in fact happen until 2015. Fortunately a substantial study by Mary Meeker, head of global technology research at Morgan Stanley, called the ‘State of the Internet’ has now gone some way to fixing a more definite date and suggests that this final tipping point will finally arrive some time in 2013. As with all predictions, however, this finite date may be liable to change.

Research previously released by MobileSQUARED in 2009 had suggested the point would arrive in 2011. This was based on the prediction that by 2011, the number of active 3G devices in the UK would be 36.3 million, as well as 6.4 million dongles/embedded devices: the total number of broadband mobile connections would therefore likely be 42.7 million, as opposed to the figure of 42.5 million for fixed-line internet usage. In fairness the analyst house did predict that internet usage would remain below traditional fixed-line usage throughout the period 2009 -2014, though it also revealed that between 1 – 10% of a company’s internet traffic in 2009 was already being generated from a mobile device.

Chief analyst of MobileSQUARED, Nick Lane, explained at the time: “mobile will become the primary access point for brands and businesses communicating with its customers within two years. Mobile is always on and the average user carries their device for an average 16 hours a day.”

Meeker’s study has shown that although mobile internet has grown at a substantial rate, the expected growth rate has not been quite as spectacular as was predicted, and consequently the tipping point has not yet been reached. In spite of the rapid growth in popularity of the iPhone and the iPad, along with the greater availability of 3G, fixed-line internet usage still just about manages to outpace mobile. Of course, this is by no means set in stone. Meeker predicts the scales will eventually tilt in mobile’s favour by mid 2013 should circumstances remain as they are.

So why hasn’t mobile internet yet managed to overtake its fixed-line counterpart? The problem appears to revolve around the issue of data usage and data pricing. Although large numbers of users own 3G phones, not all of these are used to surf the internet.  Data pricing, particularly in the UK, is very confusing and expensive. 3G phones are becoming increasingly sophisticated and data-hungry; however, data pricing plans have not kept pace and aren’t seen as adaptable. Mobile internet usage in the UK alone is now predicted to top the 32 million mark by 2014: the report suggests that if operators offered variable price data packages then this figure could be reached much quicker.

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