What do we really use home broadband for?

photo of ports on the side of a laptop

Friday, 2 August, 2019

The internet has become an essential component of modern daily life, and trying to imagine a world without it is impossible.

People commonly answer a question about why they need internet access by saying “for everything”.

But what do we really use our routers and home hubs for?

A recent report from Ofcom attempted to shed some light on which activities home broadband is most commonly used for.

(Unsurprisingly, “viewing adult material” wasn’t a common response.)

Net benefits

Communications figured prominently in Ofcom’s survey. Around 49 per cent of respondents use instant messaging, 70 per cent have a social media account and 44 million adults use email.

Online shopping was even more popular; 94 per cent of people said they visited ecommerce sites.

Only three quarters subsequently made purchases, suggesting online retailers need to improve their ecommerce sites and payment gateways.

However, the biggest reason for going online involves entertainment. Around 70 per cent of adults mainly use the internet for video streaming or online gaming.

YouTube is the UK’s most popular website, attracting more minutes per average user than either Spotify or Netflix. The BBC iPlayer also proved very popular with respondents.

Smartphone gaming apps raised £1 billion in revenue last year, and were used by two thirds of the population.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft and Google are pouring money into cloud-hosted gaming platforms, making conventional consoles look somewhat old-fashioned.

In the debit column

Of course, Ofcom respondents also noted a darker side to the internet.

The majority of adults and children reported potentially harmful online experiences throughout the previous twelve months, from spam and scams to fraud and fake news.

Despite our historic preference for free speech, most people favour tighter rules on social media, communications and entertainment platforms.

And with total data volumes across both mobile and fixed line broadband increasing by around 25 per cent in 2018, these concerns are likely to rise rather than fall.

Ofcom’s survey didn’t indicate the proportion of people who use their home broadband to access the Dark Web – a murky world of illicit activities, whistleblowing and frank debate.

We’ve previously published a guide to safely navigating the Dark Web, for anyone wishing to take the plunge.

Future perfect?

It’s interesting to consider how home broadband usage might change in future years.

Working from home will surely grow in popularity, as people adopt flexible working conditions and avoid having to commute.

Streaming is set to dominate global web traffic volumes, while the UK is already the world’s fifth-biggest computer games market.

The Internet of Things is going to consume ever-greater bandwidth, as more and more devices communicate across WiFi, 4G/5G and Ethernet connections.

Similarly, mobile platforms will require more bandwidth than hardwired equipment like games consoles or desktop computers.

Perhaps most significantly, with an estimated $3.45 trillion to be spent globally on ecommerce in 2019 alone, our buying habits will steadily migrate online.

One day, we really might need the internet to do everything.

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!