January 8, 2019

Landline calls halve while mobile data use increases tenfold

During the past six years, the length of time that British phone users spent on landline calls dropped by 50% as the increased use of mobile devices has made more traditional means of communication less common.

A study by regulator Ofcom revealed that the popularity of using landlines to make telephone calls has declined dramatically, with the number of landline minutes dropping from 103 billion in 2012 to 54 billion in 2017.

During the same period, the number of minutes spent by British residents making calls on mobile phones increased from 132 billion to 148 billion.

Throughout the study, Ofcom interviewed a broad cross-section of people, including those in 14 focus groups.

The interviews documented a strong generational difference between older people, who prefer phone conversations, and younger people, who prefer to communicate via text-based messaging services.

“Some of us can remember a time when we stored phone numbers in our head rather than our mobile,” said Liz Greenberg, Head of Numbering at Ofcom. “But the way we use and feel about telephone numbers is changing.”

The study also revealed that the monthly usage of mobile data increased tenfold from 2012 to 2017, from 0.2GB per person to nearly 2GB per person.

One of the reasons for the dramatic increase in data usage is that younger people prefer to communicate with family and friends via apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp rather than making a phone call.

“Calling someone is a bit daunting,” said one 18-year-old respondent in Ofcom’s study. “It’s much easier and quicker to WhatsApp my friends. If I have to call a company, I’ll always try to use webchat if it’s available.”

The study also discovered a generational difference regarding the importance of area codes. Younger people have no strong opinions about their usefulness, and many are unaware that the codes specify locations.

Originally, area codes correlated to the first two letters of a location. For example, the first two letters of Aberdeen are AB, represented by 22 on a keypad. The current area code for Aberdeen is 01224.

By comparison, older people find area codes reassuring and helpful when receiving and making phone calls. A 67-year-old respondent from Wrexham said: “It’s helpful to know where things are.”

Last year, data released by Ofcom revealed that on average, Britons checked their mobile handsets about every 12 minutes. In addition, the regulator found that the time spent making phone calls from mobile phones declined for the first time, as people were using messaging apps instead.

In 2017, BT decided to eliminate 50% of the approximately 20,000 pay phones remaining in the UK after a 90% decrease in usage over the previous ten years. Data collected by BT revealed that while people still made about 33,000 calls a day from pay phones in 2017, people only used one-third of them once a month and did not use some of them at all. At one point, there were about 92,000 pay phones in the UK.