Why we Irish are now the world's most addicted phone users
Last week represented a tipping point in mobile communications in Ireland. In a statistical report that largely flew under the radar, Comreg revealed that data has overtaken voice calls as the main use for mobile phones in Ireland.
In other words, uploading and downloading things on our handsets, or just browsing on them, is now more important to us than talking on them. This predominantly means news, social media and online messaging.
Research from Dublin-based analytics firm Statcounter shows that Irish people use our smartphones to get content more than almost any other western country, with a third of all web access here now coming from our handsets.
Statcounter's figures show that we have the highest penetration of phone internet users in Europe, North America and South America.
Video, too, is a fast growing area.
The online video technology company Ooyala, which works with RTE among others, recently released figures showing that Ireland has the highest mobile video viewing figures in the world. "The Irish watch more mobile video content than any other nation," it said, releasing its 2015 Global Video Index report. "Irish viewers have wholeheartedly embraced portables as a primary device, with over 60pc of all video plays happening on mobile phones alone."
The report said that mobile video views have grown from 6.3pc to 45pc across the world and 53pc in Europe. But in Ireland, it's 60pc."
For anyone with an iPhone and a Facebook account, this won't come as much of a surprise.
We're increasingly interested in the best, most expensive phones, too. Figures from Comreg show that the number of phones bought on 12, 18 or 24-month contracts here has surged in recent years, to 49.3pc. That is mainly a consequence of demand for iPhones and other handsets that cost over €500, which most people can't afford on pre-pay.
Armed with these mini-computers, Irish people are now starting to bypass PCs, laptops and tablets altogether for most of their online activity.
Statcounter's figures show an unprecedented 50-point swing between usage of PCs and mobiles in Ireland over the last three years.
In November 2012, PCs and laptops were responsible for 84pc for all website activity in Ireland, compared to 11pc for phones. Today, that has changed to 57pc for PCs to 33pc for phones. (Tablets haven't moved much, at 10pc.)
If anything, these figures actually understate the shift, because they do not take into account connectivity through apps. (If you think about your own mobile Facebook or Twitter usage, it's almost certainly done through an app on your phone and not through your phone's web browser.) With this taken into account, it is now highly probable that the absolute majority of Ireland's online activity now takes place on phones, with PCs and laptops left in second place.
And it shows. According to the telecoms regulator, we are uploading and downloading over 1,000 gigabytes worth of selfies, web searches and videos per day, almost twice as much as the same time last year and a four-fold increase on the same period three years ago. Services such as WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram have exploded in Ireland, overtaking SMS text messages twice over.
Meanwhile, the number of traditional SMS text messages Irish people are sending continues to plummet, falling 10pc since last year, the Comreg figures show.
In the last four years, we have cut our SMS messages in half, from over 1bn per month to 540m per month.
And one in five Irish mobile connections are now 4G, according to the regulator.
None of this is to say that voice calls on mobiles are no longer in vogue. The Comreg figures show that mobile voice minutes in Ireland have risen over the last two years. But this has largely come at the expense of landlines, use of which fell sharply (7pc) in the last year. Irish people continue to move to mobiles (up 4.3pc) as the main means of voice communication.
In fact, the data shows that there are now almost four times as many mobile-to-mobile voice calls (2.3bn minutes quarterly) as there are landline-to-landline calls (610m minutes quarterly). And there are now 5.8m mobile subscriptions in Ireland compared to 1.86m fixed line subscriptions.
But this doesn't mean we're talking more on our mobiles. It only means we are cutting out landlines even faster than we're moving from voice to data.
The figures show that the overall volume of traditional mobile voice calls in Ireland has barely moved in the last two years, even with all the substitution of mobile for landlines.
This means that we're either using services such as Viber and Skype in bigger numbers (as such services are recorded as "data" rather than "voice" in official measurement) or we're simply talking less and tweeting more.
However the data is carved up, it doesn't look like momentum is going to stall anytime soon. This week, the telecoms regulator released a new set of projections showing that our average monthly data usage is expected to grow 33 times to around 50GB per month over the next 20 years. It is currently doubling every year and now officially stands at around 2GB per month.
Again, this is a conservative figure. It almost certainly understates the reality of typical Irish phone usage. The 2GB per month figure is based on an average of 4 million active mobile data subscriptions.
In other words, it is 2GB per account, not per person. We know that there are not 4 millon separate Irish people using smartphone data over mobile networks: the population here is 4.5 million including newborn babies, octogenarians and people who say they don't use phones.
This means that the actual monthly data figure per phone-using person in Ireland is likely to be higher than 2GB per person.
What, if anything, does all of this mean?
For marketers and advertisers, it is a critical to understand where eyeballs are going. Whether it's video on mobiles, which is exploding, or social media trends, phones are juggernauts with no sign of a slowdown.