back to article Brits left cold by mobile internet

Less than a quarter of Britons use their phones to access the internet, a study has found. Almost 40 per cent of smartphone owners - the very folk you'd expect would want to surf the web on the move - have never done so, or gave it a go once, but won't do so again. So much or all the hype surrounding internet-enabled …


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  1. Reading Your E-mail

    Reliable data???


    Wow you can make some really reliable predictions based on such a piddling sample size. Were they bored one afternoon, grabbed a clipboard and went and stood in the centre of London? </sarcasm>

  2. Nick Kew Silver badge

    Left cold by adware survey

    Those of us with Free Software/Developer-friendly platforms like maemo may be excluded from those numbers because we actively avoid adware, and draw on the same range of apps we'd use on a desktop *X box instead.

  3. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    two words

    too expensive

  4. Flenser


    That's quite surprising. I'm rarely off of the internet on my HTC HD2 coupled with Opera and Skyfire; but then I chose the phone to support my internet habit.

  5. N2 Silver badge

    Screwed up

    By a greedy government and its 3G auctions, making 3G expensive if you go over your often fairly meagre allowance.

    1. DannyAston


      £5 a month? Can't even buy a baguette for that!

    2. ravenviz Silver badge

      Back in the day

      It is amazing how many older phones actually are internet capable. Until recently I would use my old Nokia 6310 for internet browsing while I was mobile, I was always pleasantly surprised at how many sites were formatted for phones.

      Bootnote: I actually tried to post this from my Blackberry but could not get the log in to work so I'm typing from my laptop! :-o

      1. ravenviz Silver badge

        There's not an app for that

        PS when will there be a Register app for Blackberry?

  6. Youngdog

    Funnily enough

    I just read this article on my iPhone

    Sad I know - but does the fact that I am next to the pool on a very hot country make it any better?

    Or does it just compound my original deep, deep sadness?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fashion statements

    Why would you expect a smartphone user to use it to surf the web? Surely they've been around long enough for everyone to know the days when us nerds bought them (and PDAs before them) to actually *use* has long gone and now people only buy them as status symbols.

    Who remembers the web browser, 'corporate' email client (for the time) and fax modem for the Psion Series 3 that had more features than most real fax machines, including queueing!

    Them was the days. Even the people I know who make good use of their iPhones now only use them to watch TV shows on public transport because they're too busy running around like headless chickens, working to afford iPhones, £5 burgers from posh fast food outlets and the Camden lifestyle. Not being seen with an iPhone is social suicide. It doesn't matter if you only use it for calls and to show your friends that your table in the Met Bar is actually spirit level. The same people will call anyone who uses a smartphone for something productive, "saaaaaad".

  8. Chika

    My own penny's worth (inflated to £1.75)...

    OK, my ancient Nokia 6610i is hardly built for surfing, but it can do it with a shove. The thing that put me off is the inflated prices coupled with the fact that I rarely want to use my phone for browsing anyway. But then I'm one of those that prefers to use my phone as...

    ...a PHONE!!!

    But that's probably just me.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Making the most of what youv'e got?

      not you aparantly...

      do you think that multifunction devices are the work of satan?

      is the most evil device on the planet is the swiss army knife?

      unlike most people who have a phone that is also a media player and camera I rekon you have a utility belt, with your bigg button phone, sony walkman (cassette version) and polaroid camera.. how advanced you must be, actually a music player is probably too advanced, is it still knee cymbols drum on your back and mouth organ?

      why take two bottles into the shower.. when you can use three.

      I suppose its good for burglars to know that when they break into your house, that the cricket bat will not be used on them.... oh no thats just not proper usage.

  9. Dr Richard
    Thumb Up

    oh dear

    I've just added to the stats ... from an iPhone.

    As a long time Three dongle user I'm actually pleased with O2 on this paygo iPhone .. £10/month for 'unlimited' mobile Internet and free openzone/cloud wifi is good value.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Does this mean Im in a sad minority?

    I read and replied to this article with my Nokia E51. My ipod touch is flat.

    And for the facebook / twitter generation - I was on the bog!

  11. Individual #6/42


    Nokia's browsers have (until recently) been awful. I use Opera, but you have to know it's there and install and configure it. Hardly a job for the average omnibusian. Jobs may not have put the full 'net on a phone but it's good enough to use.

  12. gerryg

    Ask me another...

    Do I use my phone to access all the (legally) free wifi all over London? yes

    Have I been known to choose my coffee shop by wifi price? yes

    Does my phone include free GPS? yes

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Or maybe we just don't feel the need to be in touch with everyone and everything all the time. It is actually nice not to be reached by the office when you step outside the doors.

    Guess I can understand some people think you they are important enough that they need to reply to an email within seconds of receiving it.

  14. smeddy

    Old study...

    But the samplw base was asked nearly a year ago... It's only been in the last six months that larger screen handsets have become more commonly used. I'm a techno geek and I've only had my Touch HD six months, and before that I would occasionally play with the net on my cramped Sony Ericcson, but I'd understand why people wouldn't. Only Google Maps would get any data use from me.

    I'd be interested in a study done in the last 3 to 6 months as I see a lot more people using their phones for 'net now.

    In such a fast moving industry, did it really take them six moths to collate and publish their data?

  15. Vision Aforethought
    Jobs Halo

    iPhone makes the process seamless

    As a recent iPhone user (and previous owner of an iPod Touch and many other phones from other vendors), it is clear that the fact most iPhone apps seamlessly access the Internet without requiring anything more than a one off login drives these statistics. As per the microwave oven and DVD player, if you make something easy (insert dish/disc, press start/play), it will succeed. People have short attention spans today and if they are made to go through hoops to achieve a task, whether for business or pleasure, they will abandon it and move on.

    I have not used an Android phone so cannot comment, but the Nokia E71 made email configuration a snap - and the iPhone is the same. Previous devices required complex technical information to be entered first. The same goes for other apps.

  16. Tony Paulazzo

    Traffic Info

    It's useful for updated motorway traffic info whilst in motion, other than that, my lappy is usually near a wifi with more screen estate and free, Virgin mobile-phone internet on the other hand, cost me 30p a day unlimited (limited to 25 MBs) and a tiny 3in. (or whatever) screen.

    Also, the iPhone is sold more as a consumer media device that can also be used as a phone, rather than just a phone with extras - so the demographic kind'a fits.

    Mobile Facebook - why? if someone wants to get hold of me in a hurry, they can phone,txt or let it ring once (I have some tight friends).


  17. SimonKendrick


    Hello, thank you for posting your thoughts on our research. One clarification is that the research was not conducted in the first half of 2009, but between June and December 2009. The quantitative survey - where our statistics originate - was conducted during the latter part of this period. So, while the Nexus One still wasn't available when we ran the survey, it is fairly recent data.

    For more info, please visit

    Best wishes,

    Simon Kendrick, Essential Research

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    By carrier?

    It would be interesting to see the break down by carrier rather than by phone type. Maybe there is a reason that people not using iPhones don't use the web as much.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Halo

    No surprises here

    I'd love an IPhone, but just can't justify the cost vs real need at the moment. Perhaps when my business grows at bit more. So the news here is that people buy phones packed with features they either cannot use because its such a pain or don't use anyway? So why are they buying them? Fashion? Keep with Chantele and Britany (Insert any Chav name) or just plain stupid sheeple, with more money than sense buying on spec and features rather than a real need. Sounds familiar? remember the state that VCR's got into? So many features that looked good, but most where used to tape TV programs whilst you where down the pub, so just a 24 hr timer then.

    No surprises that Apple makes a phone that almost everyone can use/operate thereby appealing to a larger market and making more wonga for Saint Steve. (Peace be upon him, blessed are his followers). It makes me laugh when some 16-35 year old brags that if they can't operate it they must be stupid and shouldn't have one. No not really. Stupid to design a device that is difficult for a large percentage of users to operate.

    Personally when I'm out and about I like to look about, talk to people I meet, but then again I'm from up North.

  20. Trevor Marron

    Probably the cost that puts them off

    Regular users are on an unlimited data tariff, as is compulsory on O2 if you have an O2 supplied iPhone.

    So it is hardly surprising the iPhone users use it, they HAVE to pay for it, they have no choice not to.

    Personally I use loads of data on my Touch HD as I have unlimited data included in my tariff.

    Fail, because it is blindingly obvious that iPhone users would use more data, no research would have been required.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why is this news?

    I know I'm an old Fart but the purpose of mobile internet leaves me completely baffled. It may be a time consumer if you are stuck on a Bus or on a train. Unless it can be voice activated then it has no value for a single person in a car and even then its use by the driver would (probably) be illegal.

  22. Glesga Snapper

    Yes, too costly.

    Definitely too costly, unless you have either an iPhone, or a top-tier talk plan. Whilst everyone has been moaning about the supposed 750MB cap on Orange iPhone data (you don't get charged for going over it, by the way) it's a damn sight more generous than most other plans. Take a look at the cost of data bolt-ons, they're pretty pricy.

    It was this, coupled with rubbish speeds that kept me from using data much on previous phones, smart or otherwise.

  23. Nathan 13

    Two reasons

    Size of screen to small, and ripoff charges.

    Even on the Jesus phone browsing the web is a crap experience compared to a laptop or pc. And on normal everyday phone with a 2 inch screen its nigh impossible to read let alone use.

    As to costs they are way to expensive overall, vague t&cs, and penalty charges are horrific on most networks!!

  24. Chris Miller
    Thumb Down

    I don't get it

    Expensive, slow, erratic and a tiny screen - what's not to like?

    The Internet phone, brought to you by the people who massively overpaid for their 3G licences.

  25. Leo Maxwell

    hardly surprising

    Our company has around a dozen HTC devices, they are used by our engineers for an FTP link to our service database.

    Out of those, only 2 ever tried mobile internet for more than a day or two, even their traffic virtually disappeared after a month.

    But then, these are WM devices, and the WM interface is seriously pants.

    We just upgraded to the touch pro 2, and the best part of that is the HTC GUI.

    We also have had several Windows smartphones that were likewise never used for the Internet, and were heartily disliked by the staff that had them.

    The mobile internet experience is pretty poor in general, it is bad enough trying to view websites with a netbook, having to scroll down on every page in order to see more than the advertising.

  26. Tom 35 Silver badge
    Thumb Down


    The lowest cost for iPone data in Canada is $30 for 500MB (I pay $28 for unlimited ADSL at home). So I keep my dumb phone and bought a iPod touch.

  27. Andy Livingstone

    Chicken or Egg first?

    A prerequisite to use is a viable signal. I have the gear, but not the signal. OK, I'm a bit in the countryside, but the main North South railway line is only a couple of hundred yards away.

    An follow-up analysis by Essential Research on true signal availability, rather than promised, would be most useful.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    because (I'm on orange) the cost is too much...I got fed-up years ago from trolling through "bundles" to see the rates....

    Interestingly, the orange iphone contract is dramatically different from other handsets....maybe because they had to offer more to get the handset...

  29. Anonymous Coward

    Hardly surprising

    UK mobile operators are wretched for data use. They provide "unlimited" contracts for large prices which in some cases limit you to under 1GB/month before punitive surcharges. Don't even consider wanting to tether on your phone, be prepared to carry yet another device as an access point or similar.

    They block ports will-nilly which can break things like Opera turbo mode and retrieving your email with some clients etc.. Mandating which services people can and can't use is a pain in the arse and the wrong way to go about it- if you want to SSH, for example, you're screwed on many networks.

    Essentially, the mobile networks need to STFU, get out of the way and be a well-behaved set of dumb pipes, like a proper ISP/telco. Walled garden services weren't a good idea back in the days of compuserve/AOL- and they had to die out before fixed line data services were useable for the masses.

    They should not be waking you up in the middle of the night with texts trying to establish a "relationship" with the user, asking them which sort of animal they want to be, or anything else of the sort. "Keep it simple, stupid", and provide voice and data connectivity without a tonne of complexity.

    Of course, all of this is cloud cuckoo land, as most of them have completely inadequate backhaul to service their current horribly restricted use. Even people whose smartphones can run an adequate web browser (for example), will discover that pages arrive like trying to crap out a JCB, especially from outside the provider's own data network. Maybe the walled gardens and complex/punitive pricing serve only to conceal the fact that their adverts are writing cheques that their networks can't cash.

    End of rant.

  30. hitmouse

    It's worse for visitors to the UK

    If you come from outside the EU you can't top up online (phone or internet) because your Visa card won't be accepted. You could actually BUY a phone with it online, but you couldn't add ­twenty quid to top up your account.

    You'll also have to pay more for access to services like BT OpenZone than residents, but you will get a lower rate of service. I've not encountered this anywhere else in the world.

  31. cosymart

    No reason

    I use my computer and the internet hourly but I cannot think of any reason why I would want to do so via a mobile phone/device. If I did require internet access on the move on a regular basis say to access emails I suspect I would use a netbook or failing that a blackberry....

  32. Anonymous Coward

    Nasty Surprise from Orange

    Little wonder people don't use their phones for data after the nasty surprises people get from networks like Orange.

    I'd just started using my Orange contract SIM in a (jailbroken) 3G iPhone.

    Mobile email, mobile web, buy lottery tickets while on the train, check tv guide, read the news, EXCELLENT I thought, I really got into using this device. Im not an Apple fanboi by any means but I could now access https (ie my bank) for the first time in my life on my own phone

    My normal bills on a Nokia were about £20-£50 but my last bill from Orange is a few pence over £640, yes thats SIX HUNDRED AND FORTY GREAT BRITISH POUNDS.

    Thinking this was a billing mistake, "Oh No sir, I suggest you cut down you usage. You've used 150-something Megabytes" (@ 4 UKP a Meg)

    No wonder people are TOO SCARED to use Mobile Data.

    Now im junking Orange and going with ASDA Prepay (provided by Vodafones 3G) its 8p min for voice (per sec billing) and 20pence /Meg.

    Sorry Orange, you just lost a lifelong customer. I hope they are so proud of themselves. I fear I am not the only one who this has happened to.

    1. Bod

      Orange charges

      You should have got into the Orange daily capped rate. You'd only be charged £1 max a day (or is it £2 now). Though there is a usage limit, but you won't be overcharged.

      Problem is, Orange don't advertise this. It's on their online account page, and it's free, but you need to activate it (or you can call them to do so). By default they stick people on the most expensive rate and expect them to sort out a cheaper package.

      Similar with Vodafone (at least on PAYG), £1 daily cap.

      Be warned however. DON'T use your mobile overseas! Caps don't work overseas and the per Mb rates are frankly ludicrous. £8 per meg on Orange in the US and Canada!

      1. ravenviz Silver badge


        I worked out once* that roaming the same download as the 'deal' you get on Vodafone for £5 a month would cost over £5000! I could understand a 'deal' where you get some advantage due to getting the deal, of the order of 50%, or even a factor of two, but not three orders of magnitude. Something *definitely* is not right!

        *I went through my calculations with the woman at Vodafone and she was surprised as well, probably by the fact that I'd actually bothered to sit down and work it out

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Nasty Surprise

      Even at 20p/MB, that's still £30 for 150MB. An O2 iPhone contract with unlimited data is ~£35pcm. And you get a lot of free minutes and texts.

      Any reason other than reception that you don't go with O2?

  33. georgio

    Stupid or simplistic... or both.

    Talk about muddled thinking!! If you were to forge a policy on this survey, you would be almost 100% wrong. The survey actually begs the question, why is the majority of phone web access done by one phone?

    I think you could only draw the conclusion that 'The majority of internet able phones do not access the web on a regular basis' from this survey - and that's all.

    I think even a novice looking at the stats would rapidly see that the only regular web using phones are the new smart phones - not that Brits are left cold by mobile access. In fact, if you were to sample each and every iPhone user you would get a 100% web return and probably much the same for Android and Palm users which goes to show that if you make it easy to do something, people will do it. The opposite conclusion in fact.

    If I remember rightly, Steve Jobs said when introducing the iPhone, that accessing the web with existing phones "sucked" because it was slow, awkward and unreliable, so it wasn't happening. With the iPhone they made it a simple one touch option and guess what... everyone uses the feature and loves it. With this in mind, it's simple to rank the phones in order of how easy it is to get the 'full' web - which most of the phones out there can't do anyway.

    Now if they had asked each of the sample respondents which phone they were using, they would have exposed the poor web implementation of the majority of phones out there but that would be far too embarrassing for those manufacturers and given Apple a seal of approval. And how do you sell a report that simply states that Apple, plus a few others, are doing it right and the others are hopelessly wrong.

    As always, the usefulness of a survey and the resultant stats, is totally dependent on asking the right questions.

  34. SirTainleyBarking

    Yes I surf on a mobile

    I use my Crackberry. Yes its handy , but god-danm it slow.

    Thats the major hassle. slower than I remember Dial up being.

    And thats the real reason I suspect most people don't surf beyond a very quick flip in / flip out

  35. Tom
    Jobs Horns

    I blame the websites

    The websites that people want to use are not really geared up for viewing over the mobile web. The only site I've ever used with any regularity on my phone is the PDA version of the National Rail site, because most websites force nearly a meg of pictures and "rich content" down your thin internet connection every time you click a link. It's chicken and egg with user experience and user usage, but when even seasoned geeks think your website looks rubbish over mobile internet, you've got problems.

    And as for the iphone, making a walled garden of internet for rich people may make you rich, but its not really progress.

  36. PaulCTayla


    Having read the article, I was suprised at the inaccuracies in the data. As of November 2009 there were just over 48 million mobiles in circulation, of these 8 million were used to access the phone's browser. Other data shows the phenomenal consumption of both Facebook and Google via the mobile. I suggest the report writers compare there data with other sources - Comscore, Forrester and Neilson. Also a sample size of only 2000 doesn't provide sufficiently robust data. The adoption of the mobile web is not simply an iPhone phenomemon - other smart phones are also being utilised for regular mobile web access. It's also not a London focused marketplace - many other UK regions are leading the adoption of the converging platforms. Posted on my Blackberry, you really need to make your site mob friendly!

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not surprising

    I was an occasional surfer on my Nokia E-71 but didn't enjoy the experience. Now I have an iPhone, I often surf my way to the office while on the bus in the morning. The Apple lesson is simple enough: Make it usable and they will come!

    Now that Nokia and the others have started to take usability seriously, I don't see Apple's lead as being insurmountable in this respect (and, as much as I like my iPhone, would gladly be shut of Apple's control freakery).

    1. Robert E A Harvey

      Quite right

      It annoys me that my mail provider now wants to to look at 5Mb of pictures of californian celebreties before it draws the 'login' button. And that annoyance is on broadband. I wouldn't even dream of it on mobile internet.

      Supposing I could get mobile internet access. I live in Lincolnshire, hardly the outer skerries of dreams, but only 5% of the county is covered by 3's mobile internet access, and the service from the other suppliers is even worse.

  38. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    Do you need this?

    I wonder if they asked the question

    Do you honestly need this sort of connectivity?

    I have a phone that does all this stuff but I have made a concious decision NOT to use it.

    I'm connected enough as I work mainly from home.

    Then there is the problem of an increasing number of organisations won't let you take camera phones onot their premises if you are a visitor.

    You won't find many phones out there what does all this internet wizzadry that don't have a camera. My old Nokia E61 does this but none of the currently available phones have the internet but no camera.

    Mines the one with an old Nokia 3310 in the pocket.

  39. Anonymous Coward

    The thing is...

    Previously the iphone was only available on one network, in which a certain data tarrif was included, essentially as part of the bundle it was mandatory.

    So, yes, if you're paying so much money for a tariff in which a data allowance is mandatory, of course you'd be more inclined to use it!

    Data in the UK is far too expensive. Even something like o2's £1 a day max charge for data on some contracts is only useful if you want to regularly use the internet access throughout the day, what if you just want to check something quickly?

    Fair capped usage should be available for a minimal price, and I think it would definitely encourage take up of mobile email and internet use, especially on phones with bigger screens and opera mini now better than ever.

  40. vegister

    make it cheaper, and they will come

    i am a tech literate IT bloke and would love a Nokia N900 and mobile internet, but the reality is, with wife and kid to support, i just can't justify an extra £30 a month for the luxury. nearly all iphone users i know are young free and single with no landlines, nappies to buy and mortgages fixed at 6%

    until then, in my opinion, it remains a luxury in the realm of those who have plenty of disposable income, or those who absolutely need it (far fewer than the first category)

  41. Spanners Silver badge

    There's more than the web.

    It sounds like there is a confusion here between the Internet and the WWW. Anyone who has used their smartphone for email has used the net. Smartphones are also used for Facebook, Twitter and many other things that do not involve trying to read websites on a 8CM screen.

    Maybe it is just that iPhone users are more likely to know that.

  42. dave hands


    I've only had three internet enabled phones, one of which is my current phone - the iPhone. Of the three only the iPhone has actually worked. The others were a joke, tiny screens and hopelessly slow page load times.

    Basically - Apple got it right, the rest added it as an after thought and didn't.



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