Research: UK talks for longer during lockdown

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UK comms regulator Ofcom’s second Mobile Matters report analyses how around 200,000 people used their Android mobile phones between January and April this year, shedding light on how people make calls and get online on the move.

The report reveals marked differences in how people used their phones before and during the initial Covid-19 lockdown period.

The average mobile call in the initial weeks of lockdown lasted around five and a half minutes – nearly two minutes more than before the social and working restrictions began.

Average mobile call time before lockdown was 3 minutes 40 seconds, rising to 5 minutes 26 seconds in the early post-lockdown period.

But more generally, many people are not using their mobile for traditional calls at all. Ofcom’s data shows that more than one in five people (22 per cent) did not make or receive a single call on their mobile network in the first 11 weeks of the year. This can in part be explained by the rise of newer communications services such as WhatsApp, Zoom and others – whether for calls, instant messaging or group video calls.

The proportion of people not making calls did not change between pre- and post-lockdown, suggesting some people have a preference for using different services to communicate regardless.

Mobiles head outdoors

The coronavirus also changed where people used their mobile phone. Mobile activity in the centres of the UK’s capital cities fell dramatically at the start of lockdown – as people headed away from offices to work from home.

Cardiff (-26 per cent), Belfast, Edinburgh and London (all -33 per cent) saw sharp drops in mobile activity, especially in more central areas, while suburban and rural areas saw an increase in mobile activity, as people spent more time in their local areas.

Ofcom’s research also shows how some people used the initial lockdown period to take the chance to go outside and enjoy the quieter, greener parts of their areas. For example, Ofcom saw increases in mobile activity in parts of London’s Richmond Park, Blackford Hill in Edinburgh, Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park near Belfast, and the Welsh coastal hamlet of Lavernock.

Changes in use of smartphones in city centres during lockdown: in London mobile connections fell by 33 per cent, Wi-Fi connections rose by 10 per cent, in Edinburgh mobile connections fell by 33 per cent, Wi-Fi connections rose by 4 per cent, in Cardiff mobile connections fell by 26 per cent, Wi-Fi connections rose by 12 per cent, in Belfast mobile connections fell by 33 per cent, Wi-Fi connections rose by 2 per cent.

“Staying in touch has never been more important and our analysis paints a fascinating picture of how people moved around and used their phones during lockdown’” commented Ian Macrae, Ofcom’s Director of Market Intelligence. “People spent much longer talking on their phones and while city centres were much quieter than before, green spaces across the UK had much higher phone use. Our data also shows that for the large majority of the time people were able to connect to high speed 4G networks.”

How networks are performing

The report also looked at how well mobile networks performed in the first part of the year. People had a 4G network available to them over 80 per cent of the time. When people did try to connect to 4G networks those attempts were successful 97 per cent of the time.

However, Ofcom also found that connections were twice as likely to fail when the network is busy in mobile hot spots – such as city centres and train stations – at peak times.


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