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Shift towards ‘smarter’ digital life as broadband security, sustainability become key needs

Cisco survey finds consumer expectations will reshape the needs and economics of the internet

Evolving consumer expectations are reshaping the needs and economics of the internet, with people around the globe rethinking what they rely on the internet for, and balancing classic demands for speed and reliability with the intensifying needs of rising eco-consciousness, secure cloud infrastructure, and the consumerisation of technologies such as the internet of things (IoT) connecting our devices, from smart cars to home appliances.

That is according to this year’s Cisco broadband survey, conducted by independent research consultancy Censuswide, based on a survey of 21,629 workers across 12 countries: the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, Poland, Spain, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sweden, UAE and the Netherlands. It was completed during January and February 2023, and the sample included respondents based in every region of each country, who either work full-time remotely; full-time in an office; hybrid, between home and the office; or on the frontline.

The top-line finding of the survey was that 79% of respondents ranked broadband as critical national infrastructure, escalating the need for the technology industry to respond to these asks and accelerate the journey towards a more sustainable, secure internet for the future.

The carbon-cost of broadband connectivity has become a top priority for consumers, with 65% of consumers in Europe, the Middle East and South Africa now concerned about the carbon footprint of their broadband, with young people aged 18-24 the most concerned (73%). This supports a wider market trend, shown in a 2019 survey by Nielsen and a 2022 survey by Globescan, revealing widespread consumer awareness around the environmental impact of the products they use and a demand for companies to step up and mitigate negative impacts on the planet.

Cisco also found the emergence of hybrid work and the ever-increasing blurring between the professional and personal lives of employees was bringing new risks into the home. Despite most consumers using their broadband for tasks such as banking and work, passwords were still the most popular way (53%) that survey respondents protect home networks and devices. Alarmingly, only a quarter had switched on their router’s firewall. This is despite previous Cisco research revealing that 57% of consumers worry about cyber criminals hacking their devices.

While speed was still the main priority among those planning to upgrade their broadband over the course of the next 12 months, indicated by 40%, security is now a close second, ranked by 38% of consumers as a top priority when choosing their broadband package.

One of the consequences of consumers expanding their digital lives was a rapid increase in the number of internet connections. The survey found that as the number of IoT devices online grows from billions to trillions, so does the demand for bandwidth and processing power to analyse all of the data produced.

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According to the survey, there is no sign of this slowing down. Consumers are instead embracing the shift towards a “smarter” digital life. A majority already have, or expect to have, their cars (67%), lights (74%), appliances (71%), energy (76%) and water (64%) connected.

Indeed, more than half of consumers surveyed (54%) indicated feeling positive about new ways to connect their homes and lives to the internet. This is despite a majority (63%) saying that the cost-of-living crisis has changed the way they spend money on digital services. Just over one in five reported moving to a lower-cost broadband package, and 16% have cancelled streaming services.

“The carbon footprint of the information and communications technology sector is estimated to account for around 2.1 – 3.9% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and more than half of that comes from networks and datacentres,” said Gordon Thomson, vice-president service provider for EMEA at Cisco. “That means designing products with energy efficiency and security in mind, adopting circular economy principles in product development and business operations, and taking a smart and sustainable approach to lifecycle management.

“In addition to the cyber security threat landscape constantly evolving and expanding, we have to deal with the increasing threat of climate change,” he said. “Prioritising sustainability and security in broadband infrastructure is therefore crucial to enable lasting and resilient digital transformation.

“The old technology adage of ‘faster, cheaper, better’ has not been relevant for a long time. It’s now about simplifying solutions and building networks that can fuel global connectivity and economic growth, facilitating and protecting the digitisation and automation of everyday activities, all without losing sight of our impact on the future.”

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