Study: Poor Net speeds contributing to UK ‘digital divide’

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With the UK still beset by lockdowns, mobile network benchmarking firm Global Wireless Solutions (GWS) has released the results of its latest major study into real-life consumer experiences of home Internet connections, which uncovers evidence of a stark ‘digital divide’ in the UK.

As more people come to rely on video for working and communicating with family, friends and colleagues, nearly a third (30 per cent) are suffering from inadequate throughputs – download speeds lower than 2 Mbps or upload speeds lower than 1 Mbps. Furthermore, according to Ofcom, speeds higher than 10 Mbps for download and 1 Mbps for upload is considered a “decent” broadband service; using this criterion only 64 per cent of homes have “decent” service.

The extensive study involved GWS testing the speeds of home Internet connections in over 2,000 households along with conducting in-depth consumer research into how home Internet performance has impacted people over the course of the pandemic. The study primarily involves ISPs, as almost all (89 per cent) of the homes tested and surveyed use their home broadband network to connect to the Internet, as opposed to their mobile network.

The findings from the study suggest that there is a noticeable ‘digital divide’ in the UK, with inequalities of home Internet performance impeding some consumers’ abilities to work and stay ‘connected’ during the ongoing pandemic and lockdown periods. When connected to their home Internet, 62 per cent of all respondents reported experiencing a range of issues from being unable to load websites, stream videos or connect to video conferences. As a result of these problems, over half (52 per cent) of the respondents claimed they felt isolated at some point during the first national lockdown.

While business offices likely ensure a level playing field when it comes to Internet bandwidth, home offices have uncovered inequalities that are negatively impacting professional lives. Half of the respondents admit to feeling ‘judged’ about their competency if their network doesn’t hold up when speaking to colleagues in a work setting from home. The findings suggest that this is not just about feeling incompetent, as over a third of respondents (37 per cent) admitted they also question their colleague’s competence when they see them suffering from connectivity issues; this figure increased to over a half (55 per cent) in Greater London, suggesting that those in the capital are less tolerant of connection issues.

As the country’s reliance on video conferencing has grown, people are most likely to worry about network performance on video or voice calls, as 34 per cent have had problems with video calling and conferencing over the last few months. Moreover, just over one in 10 admitted that they have had a colleague comment on their poor connection during a voice or video call (this increases to nearly two out of 10 among the younger workers aged 18 to 24). But the data shows that video calling is here to stay, as the majority of the people in the UK (65 per cent) intend to continue using video calling platforms after the technology’s prolific rise this year.

The study also found that while those in urban areas were more likely to feel isolated by poor home Internet connectivity, rural respondents were more likely to do something about it. 60 per cent of urbanites admitted they felt unable to communicate effectively with others at some points during this year, yet this was the case for only 43 per cent living in rural areas. In terms of addressing these issues, just over a quarter (27 per cent) of all respondents would change providers if problems persisted, increasing to 39 per cent for respondents living in rural areas. People are also relying increasingly on the availability of their mobile signal at home. When experiencing poor connectivity during a video call, 20 per cent of all consumers said that they will switch from their WiFi to their mobile network.

The study reveals that some consumers are also optimistic about the promise of 5G, as over a quarter (26 per cent) think that 5G will help fix the nation’s ‘digital divide’ in the future. This figure increased to 34 per cent for those living in urban areas.

“The fact that a third of homes in the UK don’t have sufficient speeds to perform routine tasks is disappointing,” commented Paul Carter, CEO, Global Wireless Solutions. “It’s a real eye opener, particularly at a time when everyone is at home and relying on their networks more than ever. Like it or loathe it, life as we know it has changed and having a sufficient Internet  connection is essential for being able to work and live. Without reasonable throughputs, consumers risk feeling disconnected, frustrated, and anxious.”

“But there is hope. While it’s unsurprising that people who have poor Internet connections will change broadband providers when they can, we’re also seeing people willing to switch to mobile which most likely indicates that indoor mobile coverage is improving over previous years. This will only be intensified by the rollout of 5G around the country. We have been testing the performance of 5G in cities across the UK and we are already seeing promising speeds within urban areas. As such, 5G should be a potential solution to the problems that so many homes are currently experiencing throughout the UK. This is probably why savvy consumers are already heralding it as the future to help fix the nation’s digital divide.”

“In addition, consumers in the UK should know that, per Ofcom, they have a right to request a decent broadband service. Many of the participants in our study may want to consider this or go completely wireless and work through their mobile operator.”


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