Press release

18 Jun 2020 London, GB

UK households increase digital activity but concerns over digital well-being – including data security and internet reliability – are creating anxiety among consumers, reveals EY report

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 a new EY report launched today.

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Annabel Banks

Manager, Media Relations, Ernst & Young LLP

A highly experienced communications professional with cross-sector experience in media relations having worked with global brands spanning elite professional services firms to digital start-ups.

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 a new EY report launched today.

The survey of 2,500 UK consumers, conducted between 27 May and 1 June, outlines the top 10 challenges and opportunities facing providers in the wake of COVID-19. While the crisis has spurred greater engagement with technology – 21% of consumers are more engaged with the latest technology and gadgets for the home – less than half of households (44%) 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% of consumers using it for the first time since the COVID-19 crisis began, a figure that has grown from 18% when polled at the end of March. Other activities, from online shopping (increasing from 9% to 15%), 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% 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% are making more group video calls, 38% are using social media more often and 36% are watching more streaming TV. And it is not just the world of online that is seeing greater traction – 25% 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% 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% 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% of consumers were actively seeking time away from their smartphones – but this has dropped down to 29% during the crisis.

Consumers are also paying more attention to what they purchase: 27% 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% of consumers expect to spend more on broadband following the crisis, compared to 5% expecting to spend less, while 18% expect to spend more on streaming TV versus 6% 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%) are unnerved by the prospect of personal or professional information being captured by smart home devices, with 52% also concerned about phishing emails and texts that exploit the COVID-19 situation. Meanwhile 31% 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% of consumers more worried than before about transmitting personal data and 24% more worried than before about encountering harmful content online, for example.

A third of all households (32%) – and 43% 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% 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% agree and only 11% disagree this is the case. 25% of consumers are concerned about a reduction in broadband quality since lockdown – rising to 32% of 18-24 year olds – while 26% 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%), consistent Wi-Fi signals throughout the house (50%) and consistent broadband speeds at all times of day (47%) 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% are aware of the differences between different broadband technologies such as fibre, cable and full-fibre, while only 42% understand marketing terms such as ‘ultrafast’ and ‘superfast’ and what these types of broadband package offer in terms of speed. Additionally, only 10% of consumers want to upgrade to full fibre but 43% 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% say the crisis has made the more likely to consider purchasing a 5G mobile package – the survey reveals that 24% 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

Praveen 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.”

A full list of the top 10 challenges and opportunities facing TMT providers can be accessed here.