How better broadband is changing consumer behaviour

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Saturday, 27 July, 2019

Ofcom recently published its annual communications market report, which provides a snapshot of how the domestic broadband sector is faring.

This year’s report shows that UK consumers’ behaviour has changed in tandem with improvements to connection speeds.

Perhaps surprisingly, we also spent slightly less per household on broadband, phone and mobile communications in 2018 than we did in 2017.

That’s despite the fact many more people can now get 4G (rather than 3G) mobile connections.

Costs are falling, just as regulatory rules are being used to drive up service quality for domestic broadband customers.

Crunching the numbers

In the UK, 87 per cent of households have an internet connection, while 79 per cent of all UK adults use a smartphone.

These figures are similar to those for 2017, but the ways we use our digital connections are clearly changing.

We’re making far fewer voice calls, and any calls we do make are increasingly on mobile devices. Meanwhile, landline use continues to fall.

Yet we’re also less likely to use our mobiles for texting or picture messaging, because many of us have migrated towards online messaging services and apps.

This is partly because they are cheaper (or free), but perhaps also because they offer more options like content sharing and group chat.

In fact, the report’s clearest message seems to be that the futures of both mobile and fixed line broadband services lie in data, rather than voice services.

Historic boundary-blurring between mobile and fixed domestic broadband connections is set to continue, as people use WhatsApp on tablets and play Steam games on their PCs.

Trends in broadband data

The UK’s use of data via mobile and fixed line broadband continued to rise in 2018.

Data consumption went up by around 25 per cent for each format. Last year alone, there was a five per cent increase in the use of subscription on-demand video services like Netflix.

So what’s driving this change?

In a nutshell, the coverage, speed and quality of broadband connections are all increasing, giving consumers more options than ever before.

Ofcom’s report tells us there were 26.6 million fixed broadband connections in the UK by the end of 2018, an increase of half a million on 2017.

Of these, 15.6 million were superfast connections of 30 Mbps or above. This represents a year-on-year increase of 2.2 million.

That’s a lot more people connected to the information superhighway.

By December 2018, the average UK residential download speed was 54.2 Mbps. The roll-out of fibre connections is certainly being felt.

Ofcom research also revealed that by spring 2019, just over half of UK properties were able to get ultrafast broadband of at least 300 Mbps.

And 2019 has also heralded the arrival of 5G, opening a new era for mobile broadband.

What might happen to domestic broadband provision in future?

There is evidence to suggest UK consumers will prefer video content if the quality and connection speeds improve on those previously available.

With 4K video here already and 8K on the horizon, this trend seems likely to continue. The roll-out of 5G will help, as should innovations in mobile broadband.

Demand for data will probably rise, year-on-year. But perhaps the most interesting question concerns whether the use of voice calls could plateau.

We are calling less and messaging more, so is it possible that voice calls will become obsolete? Or will video calling or other forms of messaging become the new normal?

One thing we do know is that broadband is now a utility, increasingly vital to modern life. That’s why equal access to good broadband is so important.

And we have seen important regulatory changes recently.

Key examples include the legal right for homes and businesses to request a decent broadband connection, and the relaxation of rules around in-vehicle mobile signal amplifiers.

These changes should hopefully make the UK a more connected country.

With better quality and more widespread broadband, businesses, communities and individuals will all benefit from the digital revolution.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!