The representative survey of 2,023 consumers, conducted by mobile network benchmarking company Global Wireless Solutions (GWS) between late November and early December, shines a light on the increased use of streaming services and video calling to celebrate events remotely.
An estimated 5.9 million UK adults (11%) expect to use livestreaming apps during Christmas celebrations with friends and family, down only slightly from the 12% of Brits who say they did the same during last year’s lockdown Christmas. Similarly, an estimated 5.9 million (11%) expect to bring in the New Year remotely via livestreamed celebrations with loved ones.
Whilst over a third of those surveyed (37%) state that they would have preferred to connect in person, many declared that video streaming and live video services have provided much-needed relief through lockdowns and further restrictions. More than one in three Brits (34%) say that video calling, and remote events have helped them to feel included when they were unable to attend a celebration, and a further 28% say it helped them to feel connected to friends and family – particularly important during the Christmas period.
Use of mobile apps with video and livestreaming capabilities has risen sharply through the pandemic as events have been cancelled and remote alternatives became the only viable option. UK mobile users report using a number of video conferencing and video call services at higher rates: 31% of respondents that use Facebook Messenger reported that they use it more often now than before the pandemic, and similarly 23% of Facetime users and 31% of Zoom users reported that they use those apps more regularly now than before.
However, whilst many reported becoming increasingly willing or reliant on video streaming services to connect with family members through the festive period, the survey also reveals that many Brits suffer from connectivity issues that prevent them from making full use of these services. Nearly a quarter (24%) of those who have watched a remote event live claim to have encountered sound issues that damaged the experience, 24% reported fuzzy or low-quality picture, and 23% experienced video freezing through events that take place via mobile apps.
The issue of poor video quality, which can damage the inclusive feeling of remote celebrations with family and friends, was compounded when UK mobile users’ network speeds were put through speed tests. GWS’s speed testing found that of those with mobile devices able to conduct livestreams and video calls, one third (33%) had inadequate speeds to either watch or broadcast a live HD stream effectively (i.e., speeds less than 5 Mbps to watch and 4.5 Mbps to broadcast).
On a more positive note, O2 customers should be in good shape. Survey respondents on the O2 network complained the least among the customers of the four big mobile operators when asked which issues impacted their ability to both watch and initiate a livestream (for example, issues involving sound, low picture quality or freezing). Over half (51%) of O2 customers reported no issues watching livestreamed content, whereas only 42% of both EE and Vodafone customers, and 37% of those on Three, reported no issues.
Fortunately for mobile users, the UK’s 5G rollout continues to expand nationwide resulting in improvements to current mobile networks and helping to ensure that family members will have sufficient connectivity so they can share their special moments with loved ones. This is reflected by the fact that nearly a third of those surveyed (28%) said they were excited about the launch of 5G and the reliability it promises. In addition, one fifth (22%) responded that they thought 5G would be most important for keeping in touch with friends and family.
Meanwhile, GWS’s recent drive testing discovered that three of the four major operators have doubled their nationwide 5G coverage in comparison to last year (EE’s 5G coverage increased approximately 120%, O2’s 260%, Three’s 150%, and Vodafone’s 90%). In fact, 25 out of the 33 major metropolitan cities and towns that GWS tested across the UK now offer 5G coverage from all four operators.
Says Paul Carter, CEO, Global Wireless Solutions:
“The pandemic continues to underline the importance of robust digital connectivity that allows people to meet virtually when the risks of in person socialising are high. Video calling and livestreaming have provided so many with much needed relief when families and friends are forced apart over important celebrations like Christmas, New Years, and other occasions. Our data points to the fact that whilst current network capabilities allow people to feel connected, there are limitations.
“The increased importance of high-quality streaming services, enabled by reliable connectivity, shows that the UK must continue to embrace technological innovation and invest in its digital infrastructure to ensure people can continue to come together virtually.”