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Death of the dongle? USB mobile broadband usage declines as more Aussies tether smartphones

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source, April-September 2013 and April-September 2014, average six month sample =13,879 Australians 14+.

The popularity of mobile broadband connections including plug-in USB modems, portable WI-FI modems and tablet SIM cards is declining—but people in rural areas continue to drive demand, the latest data from Roy Morgan Research shows.  

In the six months to September 2014, 5.1 million Australians 14+ (26.5%) had one or more mobile broadband connections, down from 5.9 million (30.7%) a year ago. 

Much of the change is due to a hefty drop in the number of us using a USB modem, from 2.1 million (10.8%) in the six months to September 2013 to 1.4 million (7.4%) now. The proportion of Australians with tablet SIM cards fell from 4.3% to 3.7% over the period, with over 100,000 fewer users.  

By comparison, portable WI-FI modems have almost maintained their popularity, at 17.5%. Today, two-thirds of those with any form of mobile broadband connection are using a portable WI-FI modem.    

% of Australians with mobile broadband

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source, April-September 2013 and April-September 2014, average six month sample =13,879 Australians 14+.

Mobile broadband is more widespread in rural areas: almost 1 in 3 people living outside capital cities have some form of mobile broadband connection (31.6%) compared with less than 1 in 4 capital city residents (23.7%).

USB modems and tablet SIM cards are most popular among Australians aged 50 to 64, while 14 to 24 year-olds are more likely than average to have portable WI-FI modem.

The decline in mobile broadband is likely attributed to the rise of smartphones and their ability to function as a portable internet hotspot that connects to other devices.

More Australians are connecting other devices like laptops and tablets to the internet via their mobile phone data. Called ‘tethering’, in an average four weeks almost 2.1 million Australians now use their smartphone as a modem this way, up from 1.9 million a year ago.

Tim Martin, General Manager - Media, Roy Morgan Research, says:

“We’re moving from a time of personal internet data allowance to shared allowances. Our technology tracking data shows that people using USB modems tend to have only one or two devices in the household, while those using portable WI-FI are more likely to have three or more. Clearly, a dongle isn’t as useful when there is a need for multiple connections at once.

“So at a time when many households are getting their third, fourth, fifth or sixth mobile internet device, service providers such as Optus and Telstra have already introduced mobile data plans that allow consumers to share allowances across multiple devices and users.

”It will be interesting to see whether these offerings help to slow down the rate of decline in the mobile broadband category.

“With the rise of tethering, service providers of both home internet and mobile will need to monitor the changing ways customers access the internet on different devices and for different reasons.”

To connect with Australians using mobile broadband, contact: 

Vaishali Nagaratnam
Telephone: +61 (3) 9224 5309