LONDON: For the first time, smartphones have overtaken laptops as the UK's preferred device for going online following a huge increase in take-up of 4G mobile broadband, according to new research from Ofcom.

The UK media regulator reported that two-thirds (66%) of British adults now own a smartphone, up from 39% in 2012. This rises to 90% of 16-24 year-olds while half of 55-64 year-olds now own one compared with just a fifth (19%) in 2012.

A third (33%) of UK internet users regard their smartphone as the most important device for going online, compared with 30% who use their laptops, marking a major shift since just last year when 40% preferred their laptop and 22% used their phone.

Ofcom said the development is being fuelled by take-up of 4G mobile broadband and subscriptions to these services jumped from 2.7m to 23.6m in 2014 alone.

Overall, UK smartphone users spend nearly two hours online each day (1 hour and 54 minutes) while users of laptops and PCs spend 1 hour and nine minutes online.

And it appears mobile habits have become so ingrained that about a third of adults (34%) check their smartphone within five minutes of waking up, a figure which rises to nearly half (49%) of young people aged 18-24.

Keeping informed and in touch with friends and family are significant drivers for internet usage in the UK, the report confirmed.

Social media (62%), instant messaging (57%) and VoIP calls/video (34%) are used for communicating with friends and family while a third (34%) use picture messaging services and a quarter (24%) use Twitter.

"4G has supercharged out smartphones, helping people do everything from the weekly shop to catching up with friends with a face-to-face video call," observed James Thickett, Ofcom's director of research.

Although the focus of Ofcom's report was on mobile usage and the surge in 4G take-up, it also noted that TV is still the most popular platform with the average person watching it for 3 hours and 40 minutes a day.

However, a generational shift appears to be underway as most 16-24 year-olds watch on demand and catch-up programmes on computers and smartphones rather than on a TV.

A full 57% of young people regularly watch on demand and catch-up TV on their laptop or PC while almost half (45%) watch on a smartphone and 40% use a set-top box.

Data sourced from Ofcom; additional content by Warc staff