Cell phones play increasing role getting US online

Survey underlines importance of mobile platforms in reaching people

Half of all adults in the U.S. now use a cell phone to access the Internet and they are turning increasingly to the gadgets as their primary method of going online, according to the results of a survey published on Tuesday.

The study, conducted in March and April by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, found some 88 percent of those surveyed reported owning a cell phone, up from 83 percent last year.

Of that 88 percent of people with cell phones, just over half said they use their phones to access the Internet and just under a third said a cell phone was is their primary way of getting online.

The study underlines the importance of mobile as a way for companies and government to reach citizens and the methods used to do so, said Aaron Smith, who wrote the report. "Accessing a service through a 4-inch screen is very different to accessing through a 20-inch screen," he said.

The reason people turn to cell phones to get online can be as much for convenience as it can be socio-economic.

While nearly half of all young adults (18-29 year olds) use their phones for the majority of online browsing, African Americans are twice as likely to do so as whites (51 percent versus 24 percent), the survey found. Among Latino users, around two fifths (41 percent) report using mostly phones for online access.

Users with a household income below $50,000 and those who have not graduated from college are also more likely to turn to cell phones for most of their online access.

Among all users who report using cell phones for most of their online access, two thirds said it's because they are convenient and always available. Just under a fifth said their online habits made cell phones an easier way to get online and one tenth said they don't require a more powerful device. Six percent reported a preference over PCs because phones are easier to use.

A small minority of those using cell phones mostly or exclusively to get online said it is because they have no PC (6 percent) or because they have no other Internet access (4 percent).

A full copy of the report can be found online.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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