Though dial-up access is widely used (39%) as the primary connection type, half of the Internet users already surf at high-speed (see chart). Spurring this growth are South Korea, Japan, Germany, Canada and Urban China, where almost three out of four people use some form of broadband connection to go online. In the U.S., broadband is catching up with 47% logging on through some form of high-speed connection, the study shows.
"Yet, Internet users are not stuck to tethers anymore," said the study's co- author and Senior VP of Ipsos-Insight, Brian Cruikshank, "As users grow accustomed to integrating the online medium in their everyday lives, they are also increasingly demanding access to it from any place, at any time without wired connections."
Last year wireless Internet found its place in more laps and hands, with double and, in many countries, triple digit growth since 2002. Overall, wireless Internet grew by a substantial 145% last year, representing close to 80 million unique triers and users. Japan leads in the proportion of those who have ever gone online with a wireless connection, with almost half of its adult population accessing the Internet through a wireless device. In the U.S, wireless Internet experienced the largest growth, with nearly one in three adults report having used it. Wireless connectivity trial through various devices now represents 40% of the total Internet population in the 13 countries surveyed by Ipsos-Insight.
What is driving this trend?
The explosion of portable and wireless devices, from laptops to cell phones and everything in between. "In Leading Edge countries, one in five households already own a laptop that supplements a desktop PC. In countries like Japan, that number is twice as high," said Cruikshank. And if that doesn't appease the appetite of wireless dreamers, nearly one in four households in Japan today owns a laptop as their primary and only computer.
Could the hot spots offered by the McDonalds, Starbucks and Panera Bread Co.s be contributing toward this growth? "Perhaps, yet these companies are merely catering to the growing demand for wireless Internet users who may stop-by to have a beverage or a meal and want to conduct their online activities," remarked Cruikshank, "No doubt, as Wi-Fi technology and hot spots become more prevalent, the use of laptops to connect to the Internet in an untethered fashion will continue to increase dramatically."
The wireless Internet train, however, keeps getting bigger and doesn't stop at laptops. "Look at the explosion in mobile phone ownership, which grew by 30% globally - five times the growth experienced in PCs, during 2003," added Neil Modi, co-author and an expert in technology practice for Ipsos-Insight. "A mobile phone in every hand may soon be realized with lowering cost and increasing accessibility. Already, six in ten households in Leading Edge and Advancing economies own a PCS phone, while the numbers are even higher in many Western European and East Asian markets."
According to Modi, mobile phone ownership is an important indicator for wireless Internet growth. "Because, as mobile phone penetration continues to increase, Internet enabled handsets will become commonplace. Mobile phones are inexpensive, portable, driven by displays and keys, and are increasingly providing the ability to exchange both voice and data. As people get used to online services and mobile communication, they may soon want to be able to do these activities through a single voice and data device such as a cellular phone while on the go," said Modi.
This is not to say that the wireless Internet will completely take over the colossal network of cable, DSL, and fiber optic wires set up by networking companies around the globe. "There are still limitations to what wireless connectivity can do when compared to wired Internet connections, such as lower bandwidth, security and device capacity," Modi commented.
For these reasons, a mere 4% of the global Internet population last year used a wireless connection as their primary connection point. Yet, a significant 17% of the Internet population used wireless Internet in some capacity. The researchers concluded, "Essentially, the growth of wireless technology will always be associated with `convenience' and 'flexibility', and will in the short-to-medium term continue to supplement wired connectivity in performing both personal and work related mobile tasks."
In 13 key global markets, The Face of the Web 2003 study also examined:
- Equipment and technologies used to access the Internet, as they relate to future home networking possibilities
- Both wired and wireless activities performed
- Types of connectivity (i.e., broadband cable, DSL, dial-up modem, etc.) and trends in emerging technologies such as Wi-Fi
- Extent of wireless Internet connectivity, types of wireless devices in use, and intentions for adopting Internet-enabled wireless Internet technologies
- Internet awareness, trial, and usage
- Barriers to Internet usage, future plans to go online and implications of Internet growth.