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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
*= 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Background to this snapshot
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)
Those with a fixed-line telephone at home and no mobile
|ABS total population estimate
|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.
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.
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 Roy Morgan Single Source, December 2013.
 Ofcom, International Communications Market Report 2013.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 3101.0 Australian Demographic Statistics, September 2013.