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21 July, 2014
03:21 PM

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Older Australians resist cutting the cord

By Editor

As Australians use a wider range of communications services to suit their individual needs and circumstances, the use of the traditional fixed-line telephone has slowly declined. While increasing numbers of Australians are replacing their fixed-line telephone with a mobile phone (see the researchacma snapshot Australians cut the cord), some—particularly those aged 65 years and over—continue to rely heavily on their fixed-line service. At December 2013, a quarter of older Australians had a fixed-line telephone at home and no mobile phone.

With the ongoing transition to broadband-based telephony, the ACMA is examining changing use of fixed-line telephone services. This snapshot focuses on older Australians—those aged 65 years and over—and their use of fixed-line telephone services connected in the home, as well as their ownership and use of mobile phones. Unless otherwise stated, data used in this snapshot is sourced from Roy Morgan Research.[1]

Fewer fixed-line telephones, more mobiles

The steady decline in Australians’ use of fixed-line telephones has occurred against the backdrop of growth in mobile phone adoption. As outlined in Figure 1, over the four years to December 2013, the changing patterns of telephony use by Australians aged 18 years and over included:

  • reduced dependency on fixed-line telephones in the home—the proportion of people with a fixed-line telephone in the home declined by 13 percentage points 
  • growth in mobile phone ownership and use—the proportion of people owning or using a mobile phone increased by eight percentage points
  • a decline in the fixed-line telephone-only population—the proportion of people with only a fixed-line telephone in the home and no mobile declined by six percentage points
  • growth in the mobile phone-only population—the proportion of people with only a mobile phone increased by 13 percentage points.

Figure 1: Change in use of fixed-line telephone and mobile phone

Figure 1: Change in use of fixed-line telephone and mobile phone. Excel data is available below this figure.

Note: Data is for Australians aged 18 years and over.

Change in use of fixed-line telephone and mobile phone (XLSX)

Late bloomers

Older Australians have been late adopters of technology, compared with their younger compatriots. While they follow the general trend of declining fixed-line telephone use and increased mobile phone use, older Australians continue to rely on their fixed-line telephone services to a greater extent than other groups.

This snapshot compares people aged 65 years and over with the rest of the adult population (those aged between 18 and 64 years), with a particular focus on voice telephony.

A familiar ring

Despite increased use of other communications channels including mobile phone and online options, older Australians remain more dependent on their fixed-line telephone service than other groups. A greater proportion continues to identify the fixed-line telephone as their most used communications service—in the six months to May 2014, over half (55 per cent) used their fixed-line telephone the most, compared with 10 per cent for the rest of the population (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Communications services most used in the six months to May 2014

Figure 2: Communications services most used in the six months to May 2014. Excel data is available below this figure.

Base: People with a fixed-line telephone and/or mobile phone and used the service in the last six months. 
Note: ‘Other’ includes use of internet telephony (e.g., VoIP, Skype), public payphones and instant messaging. Data may not total 100 per cent due to rounding.
Source: ACMA-commissioned research, May 2014.

Slowly but surely

While older Australians are following the pattern of their younger compatriots—declining fixed-line telephone use and increasing mobile adoption—at December 2013 their level of mobile phone ownership was 23 percentage points lower and their use of a fixed-line telephone 22 percentage points higher (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Use of fixed-line telephones and mobile phones

Figure 3: Use of fixed-line telephones and mobile phones. Excel data is available below this figure.

Base: Australians aged 18 years and over who own or use a mobile phone, or have a fixed line telephone connection at home.

Use of fixed-line telephones and mobile phones (XLSX)

When examined by age, older Australians’ fixed-line telephone retention and mobile phone ownership is markedly different from younger age groups. In general, as age increases, reliance on fixed-line services increases and use of mobile services decreases (Figure 4). At December 2013, 93 per cent of older Australians had a fixed-line telephone connection at home, the highest percentage across all age groups. In contrast, they are the least likely (74 per cent) to own or use a mobile phone.    

Figure 4: Use of fixed-line telephone and mobile phones by age, December 2013

Figure 4 Use of fixedline and mobile phones by age December 2013 gif

Base: Australians aged 18 years and over who own or use a mobile phone, or have a fixed line telephone connection at home.

Use of fixed-line telephone and mobile phones by age, December 2013 (XLSX)

Force of habit

While older Australians are more likely to use a fixed-line telephone, their adoption of mobile phones has increased—from 65 per cent at December 2009 to 74 per cent at December 2013. However, despite almost three-quarters of this group owning or using a mobile phone, only 20 per cent indicated that mobile phones calls are their most used service.

In addition, when compared with the rest of the population, older Australians are less likely to use their mobile phones intensively, making fewer calls, sending fewer text messages, spending less time in calls and dialling a smaller group of different phone numbers than other mobile phone users (Figure 5).  

Figure 5: Mobile phone activities, December 2013

Figure 5 Mobile phone activities December 2013 gif

*= last 4 weeks; †=at March 2013, (data only available for March due to methodical changes to this category); ‡=’Domestic’ includes calls to mobile, local and interstate numbers; §=average.
Base: Main user of a mobile phone.
Note: ‘Total number of calls’ and ‘different numbers called’ includes calls to any fixed-line telephone service or mobile phone. 

Mobile phone activities, December 2013 (XLSX)

By the numbers

Mobile phone-only 

The likelihood of a person being a mobile phone-only consumer is strongly influenced by age. At December 2013, 4.4 million Australians aged 18 years and over were estimated to own or use a mobile phone and be without a fixed-line telephone in their home. Only six per cent of older Australians were mobile phone-only consumers, compared with 25 per cent for the rest of the population. As age increases, the proportion of people who are mobile phone-only continues to decrease, with just two per cent of those aged 80 years and over mobile phone-only. 

Fixed-line telephone-only 

While over two-thirds of the population (68 per cent) had both a fixed-line telephone and a mobile phone at December 2013, 1.3 million Australians (seven per cent) relied solely on their fixed-line telephone. When examined by age, reliance on the fixed-line telephone increased significantly for older Australians, with 25 per cent (855,000) having only a fixed-line telephone service and up to 48 per cent of those aged 80 years and over solely reliant on a fixed-line telephone service.

Figure 6: Fixed-line telephone and no mobile phone, by age at December 2013

Figure 6 Fixedline telephone and no mobile phone by age at December 2013 gif

Base: People aged 18 years and over with a fixed-line telephone connection at home.

Fixed-line telephone and no mobile phone, by age at December 2013 (XLSX)

International trends

The steady decline in fixed-line connections and higher proportions of older consumers retaining their fixed-line telephone service is mirrored internationally. Ofcom, the UK communications regulator and competition authority, compared the number of fixed-line connections per 100 people in 17 countries (including Australia), revealing a decline in all but one country over the five years from 2007 to 2012.[2]

In the UK and US, the age profiling of fixed-line telephone use shows similar trends to Australia, with older consumers having greater retention of this service. At June 2013, in both Australia and the UK, 95 per cent of those aged 65 years and over had a fixed-line telephone service in the home, compared with 87 per cent of this age group in the US.

Figure 7: International comparison of fixed-line telephone connections

Figure 7 International comparison of fixedline telephone connections gif

*UK data relates to people aged 16 years and over. 
Source: For UK data, Ofcom,
Consumer Experience of 2013, 2014. For US data, CDC, National Centre for Health Statistics, Wireless Substitution: Early Release of Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, January–June 2013, December 2013.

International comparison of fixed-line telephone connections (XLSX)

Background to this snapshot

Data sources

Data in this snapshot is taken from:

  • An ACMA-commissioned survey of 1,800 household consumers aged 18 years and over conducted in May 2014. 
  • Roy Morgan Research (Roy Morgan Single Source product)—data covers changes occurring from December 2009 to December 2013.

Estimates in this snapshot are based on the following sample sizes: 

Table 1: Sample size (people aged 65 and over) 
  December 2009
December 2013
Sample 

Total sample

5,058
6,082

Those with a fixed-line telephone at home and no mobile

1,709
1,633
ABS total population estimate[3]
2,890,566 (June)
3,337,592 (June)
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source and Australian Bureau of Statistics.

ACMA research program

This snapshot is part of the ACMA’s research program, researchacma, which has five broad areas of interest:  

  • market developments 
  • media content and culture 
  • digital society 
  • citizen and consumer safeguards 
  • regulatory best practice and development.

Each snapshot covers a single issue and allows the ACMA to focus on communications, convergence and digital economy issues of interest to stakeholders. Access other snapshots here.

Further information

The ACMA Communications report 2012–13 is available. In addition, two complementary reports were also released:

  • Report 1—Australian SMEs in the digital economy
  • Report 2—Cloud computing in Australia.

These reports can be accessed from www.acma.gov.au/commsreport.

This snapshot and all the ACMA’s research publications are on the ACMA website at www.acma.gov.au/researchacma

Comments and enquiries about research snapshots should be sent to: communications.analysis@acma.gov.au.

Join the conversation and follow us on Twitter @acmadotgov.

End notes


[1] Roy Morgan Single Source, December 2013.

[2] Ofcom, International Communications Market Report 2013.

[3] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 3101.0 Australian Demographic Statistics, September 2013.

Add your comments
  • Barry Matson

    22/07/2014 2:37:34 PM

    "Older Australians are less likely to use their mobile phones intensively, making fewer calls, sending fewer text messages, spending less time in calls and dialling a smaller group of different phone numbers than other mobile phone users."
    
    Ageist nonsense!  Why is this a bad thing? A phone is just a tool to be used when needed to communicate what is necessary.  It is not an end in itself and using it more is not a virtue.  We have no obligation to contribute more than absolutely necessary to the profits of phone carriers.
    
    Also, I think you may have overlooked the fact that many people need a fixed line service in order to have an adsl broadband connection.  They many not want the phone that is on it at all.
    Reply
    • In reply to Barry Matson

      The ACMA

      23/07/2014 12:28:43 PM

      Thanks for your comment Barry. We appreciate your interest in our research. 
      Reply
  • John Coyle

    22/07/2014 3:38:53 PM

    I am 60 years of age, have a Telstra land line, pay for a mobile plan for my 16 yo daughter to use and two pre-paid mobile phones. One mobile is so that I am contactable 24/7 as I have two older teenagers with severe intellectual disabilities. My oldest daughter uses the simpler mobile device to be safer in the public domain when not in my care. I pay for credit on the mobile phones but it has an expiry date irrespective of wether there is credit remaining or not. Telstra simply take the remaining monies if not recharged within 30 days and swallow my money into their corporate profits. With modern technologies that are available there is no impost on Telsta in any way and it is purely a money grab and a very unfair trading practice. Surely any product purchased becomes the property of the purchaser and should be accessible until it is expended, not have an expiry date. Is there a law stating that a product purchased in good faith is then the property of the purchaser ?. I have asked Telstra to provide justification for an expiry date and what right do they have to take any monies paid in such a short time frame. I have no answer to date.
    Reply
    • In reply to John Coyle

      The ACMA

      28/07/2014 9:40:55 AM

      Hi John,
      This area of telco activity isn’t regulated. There are plans in the marketplace with longer expiry dates and I draw your attention to the whistleOut comparison at http://www.whistleout.com.au/MobilePhones/Prepaid-Mobile-Phone-Plans-Long-Expiry which may help you find a more suitable plan.
      Reply
  • G Cody

    24/07/2014 11:17:44 AM

    Did this research look into the number of Australians who would NOT have a fixed-line service if they didn't have to? For example, we have a fixed-line and two mobile phones, but the only reason we have the fixed line is because the line is required for our internet service. We have to pay a "line rental fee" on top of our internet service fee, which gives us a phone number that we never use.
    I am sure that there are plenty of people out there like us - we're a dual income family, one in the 25-34 age bracket and the other in the 35-44 age bracket. Having moved here from the US where we weren't required to have a home phone in order to have internet, it felt like a step back in time! 
    Reply
  • Arthur Canning

    30/07/2014 6:29:15 AM

    As a retired Englishman I have quite a few similarly elderly friends all of whom are reliant on 
    their land line phones. Where they do lead separate lives, i.e. following different hobbies  then they will have a mobile phone each, but where they tend to spend most time together then only one is the order of the day and often then just for emergency. The older ones, 75 up, also are not really interested in the net although they get frustrated when many firms now only quote a web address for contact and offer better prices for shopping on line.
    It is probably also relevant that a lot of people use a router, connected to a land line, issued by one of the main half dozen companies who do packages for a bundle of services. For instance, I myself use a Sky bundle, TV, internet, landline phone.
    My wife appears to be fairly typical of the older ladies I know, She prefers a land phone but goes out a lot on her own so I got her a mobile, With help from grandchildren she actually uses text a lot now, not textspeak but plain oldfasioned English..She won't use a computer although before she retired she did a lot of computer work on a daily basis
    Reply
    • In reply to Arthur Canning

      The ACMA

      4/08/2014 3:19:43 PM

      Dear Mr Canning, Thank you for your comments. We really appreciate your insights and interest in our research. 
      Reply
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