While 66 per cent of households believe network operators have coped well during the COVID-19 pandemic, the second chapter of EY study, Decoding the digital home, reveals a disconnect between what connectivity providers offer and what customers need. Fifty-eight per cent of UK households believe broadband reliability is more important than speed – the latter typically cited by providers as a service differentiator – and nearly half (47 per cent) don’t think upgrading to higher-speed packages is worth the cost. Meanwhile, 29 per cent say they don’t understand what broadband speed means in practice.
The survey of 2,500 UK consumers conducted in January 2021 shows that the appetite for a consistent connection aligns with perceptions that broadband reliability declined during the pandemic – 29 per cent across all households, rising to 46 per cent in households with children aged up to 11 years.
Notably, although rural users have been less likely to report a reduction in network quality, there is latent demand that service connectivity providers are failing to tap. Fifty-two percent of rural users are frustrated that the fastest speeds are not available in their area, and only 52 per cent believe they are getting value for money from their current broadband package, compared with 67 per cent of dense urban and 61 per cent of urban households respectively.
“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,” notes Praveen Shankar, EY UK & Ireland Head of Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT). “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.”
According to the survey, consumer interest in 5G remains low, despite being commercially available in all markets surveyed. While 7 per cent of UK households already have 5G connectivity, only 18 per cent say they are interested in upgrading; 53 per cent are not interested; and 19 per cent remain indifferent. When considering the rationale for upgrading, again reliable connectivity emerges as the leading driver (29 per cent) – far exceeding interest in better video streaming (17 per cent) and gaming (just 6 per cent).
Despite this apathy around upgrading to 5G, 30 per cent of households would be willing to drop fixed broadband in favour of a mobile connection, if mobile broadband could meet their household needs.
“Limited awareness of new mobile capabilities will constrain future adoption unless addressed,” advises Adrian Baschnonga, EY Global Telecommunications Lead Analyst. “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.”
While the survey indicates that most households ultimately want ‘the basics’ to work well, those that do consider additional features as part of a broadband bundle favour privacy and security (48 per cent), reflecting wider anxieties and concerns relating to data protection experienced during the pandemic.
But traditional bundle concepts are under threat. Notably, only 13 per cent of households cite the availability of premium content as a top consideration when evaluating broadband packages. Younger households (25-34-year-olds) in particular don’t see the advantages of buying broadband and TV from the same supplier (43 per cent), and only 41 per cent of all households feel they get value for money from TV and content that they purchase from their broadband provider.
“While combined broadband and TV bundles are a mainstay of the market, some households are questioning how much they benefit from these types of package,” says Baschnonga. “Providers should heed these warning signs to ensure that they deliver convenience and value across all elements of the bundle.”