Too many people are baffled by technology, according to a Ofcom report, and the industry must look closely at what people really need or it will lose business.

The research by the communications watchdog found that older people and those with lower incomes are being left behind in the communications revolution.

Ofcom's Independent Consumer Panel warns the communications industry: "Understand customers better… target the needs of older people, lower income households and SMEs… or lose business."


Chairman Colette Brown said: "Our research provides a firm stake in the ground for the communications market. It is of serious concern to us that so many customers feel it is so hard to grapple with new advances related to phones, TV, radio and the Internet."

According to the findings, by age 65 only one in five people keep themselves abreast of technological changes such as broadband and digital radio.

"This is a wake up call for the industry really to listen to all its customers, not just the young. It makes business sense to do so and the industry risks turning off a significant amount of potential customers if it doesn't act now," warned Brown.

"Others feel priced out of trying new technologies", she warned.

The older generation and people with disabilities are also frustrated by complicated interfaces and fiddly equipment. According to the report, disabled people under 65 report experienced twice the level of difficulty (26 per cent) in using mobile phones compared to the UK average.

The third generation

But it's not just the elderly that lack knowledge of the technology on offer. The research found that 76 per cent of people were not clued up about 3G – third generation mobile technology.

Amazingly, 45 per cent of small businesses say they do not need access to the Internet and fewer than half keep themselves informed about new developments.

The researchers also found that while 70 per cent understood or were aware of digital TV, and 57 per cent of people actually using the service. Less than a third of UK consumers have heard the term 'digital switchover' and a significant proportion do not know where to turn for advice. (The government will switch of the analogue terrestrial transmission – 'switching over' to digital - in 2008-9 effectively leaving those without digital TV, TV less).

Similarly, while most had "heard of" digital radio, less than half asked actually understood to what it really referred.