Gadget giving threatens Christmas connectivity

by Communications Team | Dec 08, 2014

  • Millions of internet-enabled devices will be given away this Christmas
  • Five million people will become smartphone owners for the first time
  • Festive ‘data drain’ anticipated as family members log-on simultaneously, creating unexpectedly high bills and a New Year complaints hike

Brits are planning on giving away millions of internet-enabled gadgets as presents this Christmas, creating an unprecedented demand for broadband and mobile data over the festive period. [i]

13 million people will receive a smartphone this Christmas – 5 million of them for the very first time – increasing smartphone ownership overall by 16%.[ii] As a result, 136,000 extra gigabytes of data will be used on Christmas Day alone.[iii]

And generous Brits are expected to buy a total of 19 million computers, 13 million tablets and more than 10 million games consoles as presents, with sales of the latest fad – wearable tech such as smart watches – set to double in number.[iv]

Ombudsman Services, which conducted the research, is warning that the increased demand for data could lead to connectivity and billing issues over the festive period, with peak demand for data anticipated in the hours following Christmas lunch as family members retreat to different parts of the house to connect up their new toys.

This scramble to use the internet will see people rush to use household broadband connections. However, while switching to WI-FI does allow mobile users to surf the net without dipping into their data allowance almost half of Brits (49%) forget to do so, instead burning through their mobile data. [v]

This will result in 1.7 million new smartphone recipients exceeding their data allowance over Christmas, potentially triggering unexpectedly high bills. As a result, Ombudsman Services is urging users to exercise extra caution while surfing the web on their phones this Christmas and act on any usage warning texts from their provider. [vi]

Ombudsman Services has also unearthed widespread issues with customers failing to understand the complexities of their mobile contracts. More than a third (41%) of Brits admit to signing up to mobile or broadband details without even reading the terms and conditions. [vii]

2,241 people have raised issues with disputed charges with the Ombudsman since January.

Chief Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith commented: “We receive many complaints each month from consumers who have had problems with connectivity, including excess data charges which can be very costly. With the Christmas period set to increase smartphone ownership and push mobile data usage even higher, we are urging people to keep an eye on the amount of data they use, be clear on the terms laid out in their contracts, apply caps where possible and use WI-FI whenever they can.”

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Notes to editors

  • Ombudsman Services is a not for profit, private company limited by guarantee.
  • Ombudsman Services is a national, private sector ombudsman scheme which provides independent dispute resolution for the communications, energy, property, copyright licensing sectors, the Green Deal, the ABFA, and Which? Trusted Traders scheme.
  • The Chief Ombudsman’s speech about the future of Ombudsman Services in a changing consumer redress landscape can be accessed here
  • Ombudsman Services provides an expert dispute resolution service. The service focuses on encouraging early agreed resolution wherever possible and does not charge a fee so it’s able to offer access to redress for consumers to resolve their complaints without proceeding to the civil courts.
  • Ombudsman Services is a full member of the Ombudsman Association (OA) and adheres to its principles.
  • Further information about Ombudsman Services can be found at


The research was carried out by Opinium Research from 18 to 20 November 2014. The online survey was carried out on a sample of 2,001 adults aged 18+. The sample was weighted to be nationally representative of the UK population.


[i] Respondents were asked whether they were going to buy for their relatives either, deskptop computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, e-readers, smart TVs, games consoles, wearable tech or others. Respondents gave a mean number for the total number of each device they planned on buying. When these mean numbers were added together, the results show that the average Brit will buy 1.915 of any of the above devices. When multiplied by the adult population of the UK (ONS: 47,358,000) this amounts to 90,690,570.

[ii] 2014 figures by Ofcom show that 62% of the UK adult population currently own a smartphone, which is 29,361,960. This Christmas 12.7million smartphones will be bought, but only 38% of these will be first time smartphone users added to the market. 38% of 12.7million is 4,858,000. That is a 16% increase on the current number of 29,361,960.

[iii] The research shows that the average person in the UK uses a median of 29.6MB. When multiplied by the number of people who own smartphones this comes to 869,114,016. The number of smartphones will increase in real terms by 16% on Christmas Day, meaning the amount of data being used will be 1,008,172,259, which is a difference on 139,058,243, or 135,799 GB.

[iv] The mean number of wearable tech items per person is currently 0.174, which equated to the adult population comes to 8,240,292. This year the average Brit will buy 0.163 wearable tech devices, which comes to 7,719,354. That is an increase of 93%. The same method was used to calculate the increase in other devices. This Christmas, the average Brit will buy 0.221 games consoles (10,466,118, compared to the 39,307,140 currently owned which will result in a 26% increase), 0.295 tablets (13,970,610 compared to the 44,658,594 currently owned, which will result in a 31% increase) and, finally, 0.270 smartphones (12,786,660 compared to the 62,275,770 currently owned, which will result in a 20% increase).

5 532 out of 1,087 smartphone users admit that they have forgot before to switch over to Wi-Fi rather than use up data, which is 49%.

6 The research shows that 35% of smartphone users admit to having gone over their data limit. On Christmas day, presents will result in 4,858,930 new smartphone users. 35% of that figure is 1,700,625.

7 827 out of 2,001 respondents admit that they “never read” all the terms and conditions in their mobile or broadband contract, which is 41%