So much for describing Internet users as "wired." Increasingly, going online is a wireless phenomenon. A report issued last week by the Pew Internet & American Life Project looks at who has gone wireless and at how they use the technology.
In the current survey, 47 percent of adults reported "going online with a laptop using a Wi-Fi connection or mobile broadband card." That's up from 39 percent saying the same in an April 2009 poll. Forty percent said they "use the Internet, e-mail or instant messaging on a cell phone" (meeting the other half of the report's definition of wireless Internet use), up from 32 percent last April.
In all, 59 percent of adults in the new polling (conducted from late April through the end of May) go online wirelessly. The graphic above gives a breakdown by age and gender of who is doing so. Among respondents who go online wirelessly, 33 percent do so by laptop only and 20 percent by cell phone only. Forty-seven percent do it both ways.
Though there is nothing new in using cell phones for purposes other than chatting, the study nonetheless notes significant increases since last year in the incidence of what it terms "non-voice data applications." Notably, 38 percent of cell owners use the device to access the Internet, vs. 25 percent last year. Thirty-four percent use it to play games (up from 27 percent), 33 percent to play music (up from 21 percent) and 34 percent to record video (up from 19 percent).
Though all age cohorts have been getting into the act, use of cell phones to access the Internet still skews young. Sixty-five percent of 18-29-year-olds do this, vs. 43 percent of 30-49s, 18 percent of 50-64s and 10 percent of 65-plusers. The report does emphasize that growth since last year in use of a cell phone for this purpose has been vigorous among the 30-49s, jumping by 12 percentage points.
The increase in the number of adults who use a laptop to go online wirelessly has followed the steady rise in laptop ownership. Fifty-five percent of respondents to the new survey said they own a laptop. As recently as 2006, just three in 10 adults were laptop owners. Though not all laptop owners access the Internet wirelessly, 86 percent do so.
As you would guess, laptop ownership is most common in upper-income households, with 78 percent of those in the $75,000-plus bracket having one (or more). But the same is true of more than one-third (37 percent) of the under-$30,000s.