Home workers increase digital activity but raise broadband performance issues

Research finds lockdown prompts more engagement with the latest technology and gadgets for the home, but a quarter are concerned about a reduction in broadband performance

A study from EY has found that while the UK’s Covid-19 lockdown has prompted a positive shift in households’ digital activity, concerns around data privacy and security breaches, alongside broadband reliability issues, have created underlying levels of anxiety.

The survey of 2,500 UK consumers, conducted between 27 May and 1 June, highlights the top 10 challenges and opportunities facing providers in the wake of the coronavirus. While the crisis has spurred greater engagement with technology – EY found that 21% of consumers were more engaged with the latest technology and gadgets for the home – less than half of households (44%) felt in control of their online personal data, and a quarter were concerned about a reduction in broadband performance.

Looking at the increased adoption of digital products and services, EY’s study also revealed that one-third of all households (32%) – and 43% of under-55-year-olds – have increased the amount of home working done via online collaboration tools since lockdown. Video calling has also become increasingly popular, with 36% of consumers using it for the first time since the crisis began, compared with 18% in a poll at the end of March.

But with the need for reliable home internet more important than ever, home internet connectivity was a focus for consumers’ worries. The survey showed that the impact of lockdown and the resulting rise in homeworking has made households realise that reliability is the ultimate broadband attribute – 36% agreed and only 11% disagreed that this is the case.

A quarter of consumers were concerned about a reduction in broadband quality since lockdown, rising to 32% of 18 to 24-year-olds, while about the same percentage thought inconsistent broadband performance was making it difficult to work from home effectively.

As regards reliability of connection, users’ leading indicators of the quality of their connection were lack of buffering when online (52%), consistent Wi-Fi signals throughout the house (50%) and consistent broadband speeds at all times of day (47%). A lack of network outages was cited by just one-third of households, while less than one in five households pointed to achieving maximum or guaranteed minimum speeds.

While noting that broadband speed and reliability are not mutually exclusive, EY noted that in a world where service providers differentiate on headline speeds, it was instructive that resilience was households’ main concern – and this sentiment is more pronounced among younger and larger households.

EY also found that users were finding it hard to assess what was promised by fibre broadband service providers in terms of speed and reliability. Only 54% were aware of the differences between broadband technologies such as fibre, cable and full-fibre, and only 42% understood marketing terms such as “ultrafast” and “superfast” and what these types of broadband package offer in terms of speed.

Only one-tenth of consumers wanted to upgrade to full-fibre, but 43% would switch if better network quality was guaranteed.

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Better articulation about what full-fibre broadband is, and its benefits, is critical, said Praveen Shankar, EY’s head of the technology, media and telecommunications sector. “Simple and effective language that consumers understand is essential, especially during this period of heightened reliance on the home internet,” he said. “This will empower them to make informed choices about the best package to suit their needs.”

Although the survey found that the Covid-19 situation has made some consumers more interested in 5G – 14% said the crisis has made the more likely to consider buying a 5G mobile package – it also revealed that 24% would be wary of using 5G in the future because of fake news via social media, despite reassurances from service providers and government.

With these signals of increased engagement and spending intentions, the time is now for providers to act,” said Shankar. “However, providers need to be wary that with anxieties on the rise and indications of digital adoptions waning, time is running out.

“It is vital to remain close to customers, understand their rapidly changing needs during the crisis, and provide clear propositions that are simple to understand. Those who do this successfully will turn the tide to unlock new opportunities to serve customers and help the economy to grow.”

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