5G yet to take off as UK households demand more than broadband speed promise

Study from leading management consultant finds that despite not unrealistic worries about domestic network reliability, UK householders feel networks have dealt with extra strain from mass home working

Despite the fears of the leading UK operators in March 2021 as to just what effect the almost overnight pivot to home working would have on their infrastructures, almost two-thirds of UK households believe network operators have coped well during the pandemic but are not fully addressing householders’ needs, according to a study from EY.

And in addition to revealing a disconnect between what connectivity providers offer and what customers need, the second chapter of the Decoding the digital home study also found that consumer interest in 5G remained low, despite being commercially available in all markets surveyed.

The survey of 2,500 UK consumers conducted in January 2021 fundamentally highlighted the appetite for a consistent connection aligns with perceptions that broadband reliability declined during the pandemic.

It found that while 66% of households believe network operators have coped well during the pandemic, 29% had experienced a reduction in broadband reliability and family households had been most exposed to lockdown connectivity problems. That said, EY reflected the shift to home working and the increased network load in larger households. This figure rose to 46% in households with children aged up to 11 years.

Nearly three-fifths (58%) of UK households believe broadband reliability was actually more important than speed – the latter typically cited by providers as a service differentiator – and nearly half (47%) did not regard upgrading to higher-speed packages as worth the cost. Meanwhile, 29% said that they did not understand what broadband speed meant in practice.

Ultimately, most households wanted broadband basics to work well, but traditional bundle concepts were found to be under threat. Only 13% of households cited the availability of premium content as a top consideration when evaluating broadband packages.

Such packages are now including 5G, but the survey also showed that while 7% of UK households already have 5G connectivity, only 18% say they are interested in upgrading; 53% are not interested; and 19% remain indifferent.

When considering the rationale for upgrading, again reliable connectivity emerges as the leading driver (29%) – far exceeding interest in better video streaming (17%). Despite this apathy around upgrading to 5G, 30% of households would be willing to drop fixed broadband in favour of a mobile connection, if mobile broadband could meet their household needs.

Commenting on the research findings, Praveen Shankar, EY UK & Ireland head of technology, media and telecommunications (TMT), said: “Since the start of the pandemic, networks have coped well with the surge in home internet needs, but too many UK households have experienced performance issues.

“People want a better reliability guarantee and operators must improve how they communicate that and maximise the role they can play in the post-pandemic household in order to thrive in the future. Connectivity providers need to re-assess their value propositions and improve service adjustment experiences to meet customers’ real-world demands and accelerate uptake. Prioritising privacy and security features as part of broadband packages will help them make the most of critical customer needs.”

EY Global Telecommunications lead analyst Adrian Baschnonga added: “Limited awareness of new mobile capabilities will constrain future adoption unless addressed. Clear articulation of the benefits of 5G and the quality it offers is essential, particularly as some households weigh up whether a mobile connection can serve their home internet needs. Simple and intuitive price plans will also spur consumers to become more engaged and responsive to the latest offers.”

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