February 25, 2007

Wireless Internet Access

34% of internet users have logged on with a wireless internet connection either at home, at work, or someplace else

Some 34% of internet users have logged onto the internet using a wireless connection either around the house, at their workplace, or some place else. In other words, one-third of internet users, either with a laptop computer, a handheld personal digital assistant (PDA), or cell phone, have surfed the internet or checked email using means such as WiFi broadband or cell phone networks.

Facts about wireless

Users of wireless access show deeper engagement with cyberspace – at least when focusing on two basic online activities, email and news. Among the 34% of internet users who have gone online wirelessly:

  • 72% of wireless users check email on the typical day, compared to 63% of home broadband users and 54% of all internet users.
  • 46% get news online on the typical day, compared to 38% of home broadband users and 31% of all internet users.

The differences between wireless and home broadband users are statistically significant and notable because most wireless users (80%) have broadband connections at home. The findings suggest that the “relentless connectivity” afforded by wireless access represents a different quality in online behavior.1 It is possible – even likely – that lifestyle circumstances such as one’s job may require lots of email connectivity and associated wireless access. But the boundaries between checking email on a portable device for work or personal purposes can be very blurry; having such work-driven access may foster greater frequency of personal emailing or other kinds of online activities.

Wireless by place

When asked about the places they connect to the internet by wireless means:

  • 27% of adult internet users have logged onto the internet using a wireless device at some place other than their home or place of employment.
  • 20% of internet users have gone online at home using a wireless network.
  • 17% of internet users have connected wirelessly while at work.

Most wireless surfers log on wirelessly from more than just one of the places asked about. In fact, 25% of internet users have gone online wirelessly from two of the three places; put differently, three-quarters of all those who have logged onto the internet using a wireless network have done this from more than one of the types of places queried.

Wireless by device

Laptop computers: Four in ten (39%) internet users have laptop computers and of these laptop users, 80% say their laptops can connect to the internet on a wireless network. Most of the time, those with wireless enabled laptops connect to a wireless network at home, although most also have logged on from someplace other than work or home. Specifically, among laptop users whose machines are capable of connecting to the internet wirelessly:

  • 88% of laptop users have at one time logged on using a home wireless network.
  • 57% have used a wireless network someplace other than home or work to connect to the internet.
  • 36% have logged using a wireless network at work.

The growth in wireless networks at home has undoubtedly fuelled the use of laptops to connect wirelessly around the house. One in five (19%) of internet users have wireless networks at home, which is twice the number recorded when the Pew Internet Project asked this question in January 2005, when 10% of internet users had home wireless networks.

More often than not, those with laptops and home wireless networks take advantage of in-house mobility; three-quarters of these users say they move their laptop around to different parts of the house

Cell phones: One quarter (25%) of internet users say they have a cell phone that connects to the internet with a wireless connection. Among internet users with this capability on their cell phone, half (54%) have used it to get on the internet either at home, work, or someplace other than home or work. Among those with cell phones that can connect to the internet:

  • 47% have done this someplace other than home or work.
  • 28% have done this at work.
  • 27% have done this while at home.

Personal digital assistants (PDAs): One in eight (13%) internet users have a PDA that can connect to the internet using a wireless network. Of these, most (82%) have used it to connect at home, work, or someplace other than home or work. Specifically:

  • 56% of those with a web-enabled PDA have used it to access the internet or email away from home or work.
  • 49% have done this with their PDA at home.
  • 38% have used their PDA to connect to the web or email at work.

Measuring wireless use

This latest  measure of wireless connectivity comes from a December 2006 survey that frames wireless access in terms of devices (i.e., a laptop, a cell phone, a wireless-enabled personal digital assistant) and place (i.e,, the home, workplace, or someplace other than home or work). Looking at wireless access in this expansive way yields the finding that one-third of all adult American internet users (34%) have logged onto the internet by wireless means using one of the devices listed above.

In the past, the Pew Internet Project has asked the following question to assess the extent of wireless access to cyberspace: “Do you ever log onto the internet using a wireless device?” That straightforward question showed, in March 2006, that 30% of internet users said they had done this. This older question, however, does not capture the different places people take advantage of wireless access, or the devices they use to connect. In February 2004, 22% of internet users said yes to the older question, so there is clearly some growth in wireless connectivity in recent years.

Who are the wireless users?

Users of the wireless internet tend to be younger than internet users in general. For internet users under the age of 30:

  • 37% have logged on wirelessly from anywhere.
  • 32% have logged on wirelessly from someplace other than home or work.
  • 25% log on wirelessly at home.
  • 16% have gotten online by wireless means at work.

As to devices for accessing the internet wirelessly, among internet users under 30:

  • 40% have laptop computers, of which 88% are wireless-enabled.
  • 26% have wireless networks at home.
  • 40% have cell phones that can access the internet
  • 17% have PDAs that can connect to the internet.

Still, the 30-to-49 age range also shows a predilection to use wireless access, particularly with respect to devices that are often adjuncts to people’s jobs. About one in five (18%) internet users in this age group have gone online using a wireless connection at work, and 15% have a PDA that connects wirelessly. As to other types of wireless use, one third (32%) of internet users in the 30-49 age range have logged on wirelessly from any location and 24% have connected to the internet by wireless means from a place other than home or work.

The table below offers a fuller demographic portrait of internet users who have used a wireless connection to go online compared to online users who have not done this.

Demographic profile of wireless users

About the Pew Internet Project

The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a non-partisan, non-profit initiative of the Pew Research Center that does research on the social impact of the internet. It is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Projects takes no position on policy issues.

  1. The notion of “relentless connectivity” enabled by wireless access is discussed by Manuel Castells and colleagues in their study of mobile communication. The phrase is meant to convey that the key feature of mobile communication is connectivity and not mobility. See Manuel Castells, Mireia Fernanadez-Ardevol, and Araba Sey, Mobile Communication and Society: A Global Perspective. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.