The latest mobile network data report from mobile network operator EE, tracking the changing trends and habits of the UK’s most used apps and services throughout the coronavirus lockdown from February to May 2020, has highlighted succinctly the new normal in British working and home life.
Among trends discerned are the subtle changes in how the mobile network is being used to support conversations between groups of people with the increased use of communications apps.
Across the UK, EE’s network saw a 45% increase in traffic for apps used primarily to communicate, including WhatsApp, Houseparty, Skype and Teams. Voice calls lasting for more than five minutes doubled on average, with overall voice usage increasing by 45%. The popularity of video-conferencing service Zoom has soared, with an increase of over five times the number of users compared with pre-lockdown activity on EE’s network.
The study highlighted an essential shift in EE’s busiest sites, with usage moving from cities to suburban areas as the nation continues to stay at home. For example, London commuter town Stevenage experienced the biggest spike, with a 120% increase in data usage for communications apps due to people working from home, followed closely by country town Hereford, which saw a 118% increase. While EE noted that these changes were unprecedented, it is all well within the capacity of the network. Central London, however, saw a decrease of 58% as much of it closed to business, with nearby residential areas climbing the list of busiest counties.
With vastly many more people working from home, EE reported a commensurate increase in communications traffic on networks. Zoom users on EE’s network increased five times during lockdown, compared with earlier in 2020, and total data use on the platform more than doubled. Social evening activities with friends and family have seen the network daily peak usage shift from during the workday to 8pm. This increase, along with the use of other communications apps such as Houseparty, WhatsApp, Skype and Teams, has resulted in a 45% increase in traffic for communications apps across the EE network.
Voice calls on EE’s network were also found to have surged during lockdown. Voice calls lasting for more than five minutes doubled on average, with overall voice usage increasing by 45%, again well within the capacity of the network, said the company.
When looking at social platforms, the closure of schools resulted in a change in TikTok activity compared with before lockdown. EE’s network usage shows the loss of morning and post-school spikes as users log onto the platform throughout the day instead.
With day-to-day movement limited in lockdown, exercise and outdoor activity have formed a key part of the nation’s day. The Strava fitness app saw both user count and data usage more than triple compared with pre-lockdown figures, as people record their fitness achievements throughout the lockdown period. Similarly, MapMyRun data usage has also doubled, with the great weather and gym closures encouraging people to head outside for a run for their daily exercise. With working from home habits also affecting how we exercise, the pre-work morning spike has disappeared as more people head out at lunchtime or after work.
Ride hailing apps Uber and Kapten also saw a huge a decrease in lockdown. A peak in usage was seen just after the government announced lockdown, as people avoided public transport to travel to destinations, but the overall trend remains much lower than earlier in the year. EE’s data revealed that the month of May has so far shown a slight rise in use of these apps, as some people return to work while avoiding the use of public transport.
Commenting on the trends revealed by the research, Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s consumer division, the parent of EE, said: “Lockdown has clearly driven huge changes in the way our mobile network is being used. What’s clear is that the role of a highly reliable high-speed mobile network has never been more important to our customers, and I’m pleased that the EE network continues to deliver a great performance even in these tough times.”