The mobile Internet has been branded a failure by a new poll that found that barely one in twenty subscribers access it, and most users have no idea what it is.

In a poll conducted for Mott MacDonald Schema by Ipsos MORI of nearly 1,000 UK-based consumers found that 82 percent of them had never accessed the Internet from a mobile device, and that only 2 percent of women, and 5 percent of men did so at least once a month.

The more positive news is that some of this lack of interest appears to be to do with age. Consumers between the age of 15 and 24 were found to be more likely to use such a service than older subscribers. But 20 percent of those who had tried it said they still found it too slow or expensive, hardly a ringing endorsement of a technology that is supposed to be the future of mobile operator revenues.

The implication is that mobile Internet traffic is still by and large a business phenomenon, much as it was three years ago. But even here it is hard to see how mobile Internet access ads much to a business when compared to other uses of mobile technology, such as accessing corporate email and company databases.

"To date the emphasis of the mobile operators and handset vendors has been on developing increasingly sophisticated handset and network features. However the majority of users remain ill-informed or agnostic about mobile Internet services,” said Robin Bosworth of Mott MacDonald. “Traffic based tariff regimes, walled gardens, slow download speeds and complexity of use have all constrained user adoption.”

In other words, the mobile Internet is rubbish, and needs to find a new application to drive growth. That could turn out to be an obvious candidate – social networking. The survey suggests that this will help drive mobile use in years to come, which inevitably means that business mobiles will be used in the same way. Admins are already grappling with unauthorised access to such sites on wired networks, so perhaps the rise in popularity, if it does arrive, will be double-edged.

“Mobile operators are beginning to realise the potential of social networking sites; for example, O2 recently signed partnerships with Facebook and MySpace to allow subscribers to access their accounts through their phones. Vodafone's data offering also features a partnership with YouTube as well as a range of other popular Internet players such as eBay, Amazon and Yahoo! Mail," the report concludes, sounding a warning that should make over-stretched admins sit up and take notice.