Oct 9, 2013

Internet use: we’re more mobile, but we still need a cable

Crikey pops the hype over the widely reported percentage growth in wireless internet use, showing we use fixed-line internet connections more than ever.

Stilgherrian — Technology writer and broadcaster


Technology writer and broadcaster

“Beware of people bearing growth percentages and a love of mobile connectivity, for only half the picture will often be revealed,” wrote Chris Duckett at ZDNet, channelling my almost-identical thoughts about the spin that’ll be put on the latest internet usage figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, released yesterday. We were right.

Predictably, most news outlets have squawked about the rise in mobile data consumption. “Mobile phone data downloads rise 43% on 2012 numbers, ABS figures show” said the ABC; “Internet downloads on mobiles in Australia surges: ABS” said StartUp Smart; and “‘Explosive growth’ in data being downloaded on phones” said the Ballina Shire Advocate and, presumably, other APN regional papers.

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9 thoughts on “Internet use: we’re more mobile, but we still need a cable

  1. Geoff Russell

    So mobile usage is growing massively … but still a tiny part of the pie. Um … now where have I heard that first claim without the second qualifier before? Oh yes, from the solar power advocates … where again high percentage growth numbers amount to very little.

  2. Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay

    Interesting that Malcolm Turbull seems to be backing away from that position: “LTE or 4G wireless can operate at speeds comparable to fast fixed-line broadband with the added functionality and convenience of mobility,” he said. “The significance of the wireless revolution, and its threat to fixed-line networks, is not lost on the telecommunications sector any more than it is lost on President Obama who is making 4G wireless broadband his key broadband priority. But despite the fact that every second MP and senator is now clutching an iPad, the government seems oblivious to the wireless revolution.”(Feb 11). BTW it was part of a blog which he has since deleted but the story is here: http://www.zdnet.com/telstra-4g-makes-nbn-unviable-turnbull-1339309209/

  3. Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay

    More tech stories crikey, this is a great article.

  4. ghostofbarry

    You’re definitely right that there will be a gradual move to a dynamic equilibrium in the use of fixed line/laptop subscriptions. Not the avalanche that some predict.

    However it’s more useful to look at the usage patterns of people than the raw subscription stats. A very large amount of the fixed line subscription data is now being routed to mobile devices in the home, office or more public locations via wifi. So from the point of view of understanding how people are using the web, it’s better to look numbers relating to devices accessing online presences (websites, apps etc) rather than simply the pipe stats.

  5. Stilgherrian

    @ghostofbarry: True enough, but if I sit on the couch and use a tablet connected via wi-fi to the router in the corner, that is all my infrastructure. All that data is still going down the ISP’s fixed pipe, and that’s what I pay for that data transfer, not data at mobile rates to a mobile telco.

    Perhaps “how people use the web” needs to be part of a discussion about devices and interfaces, and “how people pay for data transfers, and who builds the infrastructure” is a separate discussion. Layer 3 and layer 2 of the data network respectively, in fact.

  6. David Hand

    Well I think that this whole broadband story will be one of demand and supply. As users demand more bandwidth, it will become economic to provide it. The various technologies will be designed to work together to provide the most cost-effective solution that delivers the required speed in the format that people want it.

    So discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of various channels is one for the tech-heads and will be solved as demand changes. If enough people want to talk on Skype for 10 hours a day, the bandwidth will be provided.

    But of course, this article is really a fairly obvious spruik for Labor’s fibre to the premises NBN isn’t it?

  7. michelle.k

    I’ve just cancelled my fixed line broadband connection & moved to wireless – not really by choice, my copper wire connection with Telstra was so uselessly slow & unreliable that wireless is my only real alternative until the NBN gets to my suburb.

    Wireless has increased my download speeds to 5 times what it was before, but I do have to keep a check on what I’m doing online & be mindful of my GB limits. It would be great to download movies & TV shows online, but it won’t be on the cards for me until I can get a new fixed connection or until wireless is much cheaper.

    I wonder how many of the wireless connections are used just because the old copper wire connections are so poor.

  8. Aidan Stanger

    Geoff Russell #1

    There’s one very big difference: mobile data is hitting capacity constraints already, whereas it’s likely solar can grow another order of magnitude before we run into any significant constraints.

  9. David Hand


    Not I’m not a techie but…..

    I think mobile data is nowhere near hitting capacity constraints. Telcos simply need to add bandwidth to cell stations they already have. A recent example is the AFL Grand Final when they predicted a massive demand on the service at the MCG and added capacity.

    Of course those cells then connect to the network via fibre.

    Everyone has a laptop or tablet or smartphone with WIFI capability these days and wireless demand can only grow exponentially.

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