An Ofcom-sponsored qualitative survey of Internet users who mostly use their smartphones for access might have implications for users across South and Southeast Asia.

The Ofcom study shows the complexity and nuances of smartphone-based Internet access, partly in terms of impact on skills development. The survey also shows the powerful impact of mobile data pricing.

For some users, mobile-only access is a choice. For many, it was “forced” by circumstance (low income, for example).

“The extent to which smartphones are liberating or limiting for these participants is complex, nuanced and highly dependent on their circumstances,” Ofcom says. “In addition, the perceived price of using data lead many users to limit usage.”

In fact, “heavy reliance on smartphones may inhibit users from developing alternative digital skills, such as typing,” the survey suggests. Perhaps that will not be a limitation, eventually, but Ofcom suggests lack of such skills is a job-affecting circumstance.

Also, many users who were mobile-only had more-limited skills in terms of technical troubleshooting and file and information management, Ofcom says.

Aside from other issues, the cost of mobile data was an issue. “The limitations of smartphones as a primary means of going online, across all parts of the sample, included the perceived pressure to complete tasks quickly to prevent the erosion of their data allowances,” Ofcom notes.  

“Creating, editing and sharing any document of length in office software applications (e.g. MS Office) was seen as almost impossible for most participants,” the report notes.

Those issues were largely experienced by users who were smartphone based by circumstance (low income, no at-home fixed network access, no home PC, for example), not choice (some users have jobs where they are highly mobile, so phone-based access is seen as an advantage).

Given that most expect mobile will be the way most people across South Asia and Southeast Asia eventually get access to the Internet, such concerns about cost and skills development will have to be kept in mind. Some job-related skills cannot easily be developed in “smartphone-only” use cases.