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Coronavirus: Video calling, collaboration applications usage rise steeply in UK homes

A survey from EY finds Covid-19 outbreak is already causing a shift in UK households’ digital activity, with many people trying online services for the first time, and video calling at the forefront of applications

It seems remarkable that it’s only just less than two weeks ago when the UK government decreed that those who could work from home should do so, but already in that time, new patterns of work are emerging, and telcos are seen as critical infrastructure for society and the economy research from EY.

The study of 2,000 UK consumers, seven impacts of Covid-19 on the UK digital household, found that network quality was top of mind among consumers, with as many as two-fifths of households indicating they believe broadband and mobile network providers should focus resources on ensuring reliable and resilient services. Indeed, only 12% disagreed and indicated that speed was more important.

Even though the added millions of home workers have placed unprecedented strains upon the networks from the likes of BT and Virgin Media – the survey found fears of infrastructures buckling under the strain of the added masses using home networks – so far, perceptions of broadband and mobile network providers are positive, with 75% and 73% of consumers respectively saying they are coping well since the outbreak of the virus. This reflects the confidence of network operators that their infrastructures can cope.

When asked about specific actions their service providers should take to help with the Covid-19 crisis, ensuring reliable and resilient performance ranked as the top consideration for broadband providers (42%) and mobile providers (40%).

Concerns around network underperformance was lower, but still material; a quarter were concerned about a reduction in the quality of their broadband service since the start of the crisis. However, only 11% of households saw a need to upgrade to full fibre broadband, while only 8% said the crisis has made purchasing 5G mobile more appealing.

The new normal has also seen many consumers are increasing usage of services they already have – 29% have used streaming TV services more often, 30% reported an increase in home working via collaboration applications, and 35% are making more mobile phone calls.

Looking at all applications, video calling has shown the largest uptick, with 18% of consumers trying this for the first time, ahead of online shopping (9%) and watching catch-up TV (9%).

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The survey also unearthed good news for telco providers in terms of customer loyalty. As many as 89% of households said they were unlikely to switch broadband provider and 93% are unlikely to switch mobile and pay-TV providers due to the coronavirus situation. At the same time, more than three-quarters of households regarded their current packages as sufficient to meet their needs during the crisis (79% for broadband packages and 81% for mobile packages).

“We are seeing a step-change in demand for digital connectivity and content in the wake of coronavirus, as household behaviours adapt to these challenging times,” said EY global lead telecommunications analyst Adrian Baschnonga, commenting on the survey. “Elevated levels of home working alongside a broadening range of online behaviours underline the importance of robust networks now and in the days, weeks and months to come.

“We may have not acknowledged enough the vital role telcos have been playing since the start of the Covid-19 situation,” said Praveen Shankar, EY’s head of technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) for the UK and Ireland.

“From ensuring that the digital infrastructure can keep the UK connected, to ensuring consumers can access critical online services by lifting data caps or adjusting their packaging and pricing – operators are indispensable.Consumer sentiments towards TMT providers during the crisis are positive at this stage. But with rapidly changing demands in an increasingly volatile landscape, they need to continuously engage with their customers and respond with both agility and focus.”

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