While Covid-19 lockdown has prompted a positive shift in UK households’ digital activity, concerns around data privacy and security breaches alongside broadband reliability issues have created underlying levels of anxiety – according to an EY report.
The survey of 2,500 UK consumers, conducted between May 27th and June 1st, outlines the challenges and opportunities facing providers in the wake of Covid-19. While the crisis has spurred greater engagement with technology – 21 per cent of consumers are more engaged with the latest technology and gadgets for the home – less than half of households (44 per cent) feel in control of their online personal data, while one quarter are concerned about a reduction in broadband performance.
HOUSEHOLD ADOPTION OF DIGITAL PRODUCTS AND SERVICES CONTINUES TO RISE
These concerns come despite lockdown measures in the UK driving many households to engage with digital products and services for the very first time. Video calling leads the way with 36 per cent of consumers using it for the first time since the Covid-19 crisis began, a figure that has grown from 18 per cent when polled at the end of March. Other activities, from online shopping (increasing from 9 per cent to 15 per cent), to accessing online health services and watching catch-up TV, have all been adopted by more than one in 10 consumers since the UK entered lockdown. Older generations are part of this step-change across the nation – 15 per cent of over-55s have watched broadcaster video-on-demand (BVoD) for the first time since the crisis began.
Alongside this uptick in first-time usage, households are doing more of what they did before the start of the lockdown. 41 per cent are making more group video calls, 38 per cent are using social media more often and 36 per cent are watching more streaming TV. And it is not just the world of online that is seeing greater traction – 25 per cent are making more mobile phone calls and one in 10 are making more landline calls.
Also revealed is the average number of content streaming services used in the home is on the rise from 3.4 to 4.2, a greater than 20 per cent rise. The big beneficiaries are both major global streaming services but also the Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs), with adoption of services from the two main channels up significantly.
WILL ENGAGEMENT AND SPENDING INCREASE POST CRISIS?
Increased adoption and usage of specific products and services reflect greater levels of engagement with technology in general: 21 per cent of consumers are more engaged with the latest technology and gadgets as a result of the crisis. This is partnered by a reduction in desire to reduce screen time. Last year, 49 per cent of consumers were actively seeking time away from their smartphones – but this has dropped down to 29 per cent during the crisis.
Consumers are also paying more attention to what they purchase: 27 per cent agree that they are more engaged with communications and content services that they buy. And the spending outlook is broadly positive – although most households see their monthly spending staying the same, more households predict their monthly spend increasing rather than decreasing after the crisis. 15 per cent of consumers expect to spend more on broadband following the crisis, compared to 5 per cent expecting to spend less, while 18 per cent expect to spend more on streaming TV versus 6 per cent predicting lower monthly spend.
Adrian Baschnonga, Global Lead Telecommunications Analyst, EY, comments: “It is vital that providers act now to translate this higher engagement now into higher usage and spending once the crisis is over. Refinements to bundles, pricing and propositions will play a crucial role in ensuring that new digital behaviours ultimately reflect greater customer confidence and satisfaction, not just the necessities of lockdown and social distancing during the crisis.”
DATA PROTECTION ADDING TO DIGITAL ANXIETY AS HOME WORKING CREATES WELL-BEING CHALLENGES
Alongside these positive signals of adoption and engagement, concerns about digital well-being are present. The survey also shows that over half of consumers (52 per cent) are unnerved by the prospect of personal or professional information being captured by smart home devices, with 52 per cent also concerned about phishing emails and texts that exploit the Covid-19 situation.
Meanwhile 31 per cent of households are concerned about the potential hacking of video calls. Online personal data disclosure and exposure are an increasing concern since the outbreak of Covid-19: 35 per cent of consumers more worried than before about transmitting personal data and 24 per cent more worried than before about encountering harmful content online, for example.
A third of all households (32 per cent) – and 43 per cent of under-55-year-olds – have increased the amount of home working done via online collaboration tools since lockdown measures were put in place. This has also prompted concerns around digital well-being: 34 per cent of households are struggling to manage their work/life balance, rising to more than four in ten 18-44 year olds.
Adrian Baschnonga continues: “Organisations need to address these new anxieties emerging from the crisis. Timely and empathetic communications with customers can provide the reassurance they need and will help ensure that increased engagement with technology in the home will continue after the crisis.”
A LACK OF BROADBAND RELIABILITY IS A KEY CUSTOMER CONCERN
Home internet connectivity is a focus area for consumers during the crisis. The need for speed is important, but the survey data shows that the impact of lockdown and the resulting rise in homeworking has made households realise that reliability is the ultimate broadband attribute – 36 per cent agree and only 11 per cent disagree this is the case. 25 per cent of consumers are concerned about a reduction in broadband quality since lockdown – rising to 32 per cent of 18-24 year olds – while 26 per cent believe that inconsistent broadband performance is making it difficult to work from home effectively.
When assessing the reliability of their connection, lack of buffering when online (52 per cent), consistent Wi-Fi signals throughout the house (50 per cent) and consistent broadband speeds at all times of day (47 per cent) are consumers’ top three indicators of the quality of their connection. Surprisingly a lack of network outages are only cited by one third of households, while less than one in five households point to achieving maximum or guaranteed minimum speeds.
Broadband speed and reliability are not mutually exclusive, but in a world where service providers differentiate on headline speeds, it is instructive that resilience is households’ primary concern. And this sentiment is more pronounced among younger and larger households.
CONFUSION AROUND FIBRE IS HOLDING BACK UPGRADES WHILE MORE REASSURANCE IS NEEDED AROUND 5G
That said, however, consumers are finding it difficult to assess the upside promised by fibre broadband in terms of speed and reliability. Only 54 per cent are aware of the differences between different broadband technologies such as fibre, cable and full-fibre, while only 42 per cent understand marketing terms such as ‘ultrafast’ and ‘superfast’ and what these types of broadband package offer in terms of speed. Additionally, only 10 per cent of consumers want to upgrade to full fibre but 43 per cent would switch if better network quality was guaranteed.
Praveen Shankar, EY’s Head of the Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) sector, says: “Better articulation about what full-fibre broadband is and its benefits compared to what they currently use is critical. Simple and effective language that consumers understand is essential, especially during this period of heightened reliance on the home internet. This will empower them to make informed choices about the best package to suit their needs.”
While the Covid-19 situation has made some consumers more interested in 5G – 14 per cent say the crisis has made the more likely to consider purchasing a 5G mobile package – the survey reveals that 24 per cent would be wary of using 5G in the future as a result of fake news via social media, despite reassurances from service providers and government.
TMT PROVIDERS MUST ACT DECISIVELY IN THESE UNPRECEDENTED TIMES
Shankar concludes: “With these signals of increased engagement and spending intentions, the time is now for providers to act. 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.”