Friday, August 20, 2010

Tech Camp, SARC and Ofcom’s 2010 Communications Market Report for Northern Ireland

Tech Campers (and a leader) sitting with their laptops

As well as being fun and fulfilling, each year’s Tech Camp offers a glimpse into the impact of technology on ever-changing world of teenagers. In previous years, a minority of campers have brought along their own laptops. This year, the vast majority were inseparable from their lap warmers.

In previous years, late night conversations down the campers’ corridor could be easily detected from the other side of the building. They would congregate in someone’s room or the communal kitchen. This year, there was no need to shhhh them. There were still bleary eyes in the morning … but from the tap tap of keyboards and late night MSMing between each other rather than face-to-face chatter.

It’s already the case that some parents of campers will be more likely to confirm that their children are alive and well by monitoring Facebook than expecting a phone call home or even a text message.

Over the years there has also been a notable increase in the ability to shoot and edit video. And perhaps an improving understanding of film grammar – though few would express it that way! The kind of technology that the leaders share and guide them through during the week is becoming less surprising. There’s still much to learn and apply, but the magic is diminishing.

SARC Sonic Lab layout

Perhaps one exception was our visit to SARC – the Sonic Arts Research Centre at Queens University. Stereo sound, surround sound, but few have contemplated – never mind experienced – the kind of all-encompassing surround sound diffusion set-up in SARC’s Sonic Laboratory.

Audiences and researchers enter the lab at ground floor level and walk out onto an acoustically transparent, modular grid floor suspended 4m above the structural floor of the lab located at lower ground floor level. Approximately 7m above the audience area is a technical gantry spanning the perimeter of the lab and nine motorised ceiling panels which can be independently lowered to ground floor level. The ceiling panels are rectangular aluminium box trusses (2m x 1m) from which loudspeakers, stage lights and/or microphones can be suspended.

With over sixty speakers positioned around you as well as above and below, you can perceive sounds moving around you in a way not possible with headphones or even a sophisticated cinema setup.

One camper suggested afterwards:

“... having seen SARC I need to re-evaluate everything I previously thought was amazing!”

As I said, Tech Camp is a reminder that technology is changing. So too is the annual Communications Market Report for Northern Ireland published by Ofcom. I’ve blogged about previous years’ reports, so will just point to some of the changing patterns in communications that are highlighted in this year’s tome that was released on Thursday morning.

Over the past few years there’s been a gradual increase in the number of households which don’t have fixed-line phones. Sometimes down to short term rentals, student housing, lack of finance. But also likely to be a sign that for some people, mobile coverage and mobile broadband (as well as other places they can get online – work, perhaps – or scrounge wifi) means that they can live without a landline.

  • 18% of NI households are now mobile-only (21% of urban households) compared to 14% across UK.

  • 2G (GSM/GPRS) mobile coverage in NI reached 89% in 2010. That’s higher than Scotland (87%), but falls short of the 99% coverage in England. (Note that mobile coverage is expressed as percentage of postal districts where are least one operator reports at least 90% coverage. So some folk in the other 11% of NI postcodes will still get some GSM coverage.)
Chart comparing 2G and 3G mobile coverage in Northern Ireland (showing 90% coverage in postal districts)
  • 3G coverage is a mere 40%, lagging far behind the UK average of 87% and lower than Scotland (66%) or Wales (69%). The coverage map confirms many people's impressions of 3G coverage. No surprise that use of 3G handsets is lower (18%) in NI compared to the UK (26%).
Graph showing 3G coverage in (90% coverage in Northern Ireland postal districts) by number of operators
  • Yet 14% of households in NI claim to be accessing the internet via mobile broadband (up from 8% last year), not far off the UK average of 15%. And 8% of NI households use mobile broadband as their only means of accessing the internet. (UK 6%.)

After years of lagging behind, the percentage of NI households with broadband (70%) has caught up with the UK (71%).

But we like our electronic gadgets!

  • NI is the gaming capital of the UK with 52% of NI households having a games console (PS3, Wii or Xbox 360). It’s the same pattern for hand-held portable consoles (DSi/DSi Lite or PSP): 37% of NI households have one compared to 30% across UK. Though Microsoft marketeers should note that Xbox is less popular that other parts of the UK!

  • 37% of NI adults use an iPod/MP3 player (compared with UK average of 32%). For people living in the Belfast metropolitan area, that rises to 42%. The household ownership of iPods/MP3 players (45%) is five percentage points higher than the UK average.

When it comes to media literacy and accessing local council/government websites, only 16% of adults in NI with internet access had visited a local council or government websites, compared to UK average of 26%. (Scotland is lower than NI with a figure of 13% of people.)

While I've been looking at the Northern Ireland report, versions are available for England, Scotland and Wales as well as an overall UK edition. This year, as well as the 137 page PDF report, Ofcom have also released a summary of the base data, PDFs of the charts, and created (SEO-friendly) web pages for individual sections. At the same time, they've hugely increased the number of spelling mistakes and formatting errors in the main report!

1 comment:

Andz said...

Some fascinating facts there! I think you summed up Tech Camp pretty well too. Facebook and MSN were at the centre of our communication, and I find that sometimes I type faster than I talk! SARC was awesome as well. Great post and thanks for those facts at the end.