Lockdown Britain sitting on top of 165 million gigabytes of unused data

Being cooped up inside for seven weeks straight has resulted in a treasure trove of unused mobile data, valued in the region of £165 million.

According to data from Uswitch.com, the average Brit is using 1.9 GB of data a month, compared to 2.4 GB in February, before the full impact of the COVID-19 lockdown set in. Thanks to customers being restricted to their homes, wifi routers and home fixed broadband networks are getting a workout, while the mobile networks are more relaxed.

Data usage for essential workers has increased by 11% when comparing the two period, but this does not compensate for the 21% drop-off from non-essential workers. The data is being paid for, but currently going unused.

“We have mobile deals set up to accommodate browsing on the go – but since so many of us are homebound and relying on Wi-Fi to stay connected, we’re simply not burning through our data allowances in the same way,” said Ru Bhihka of Uswitch.com.

“Many consumers would like to see this data rolled over to when they have more use for it, and it’s great to see some providers like Sky Mobile already doing that.”

What to consumers want to happen to leftover data?
Rolled over to next month 38%
Refunded 22%
Donated to essential workers 11%
Donated to charity 8%

Sky is one company which allows data to be rolled over to the next month, though this was a feature which was already in place prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Virgin Media is another which offers this feature, while others offer it on very specific deals. O2 allows customers to rollover data which is purchased as a bolt-on, while Vodafone offers the feature on its Big Value bundle for Pay as You Go customers.

Uswitch.com estimates unused data costs UK customers £50 million a year in overpayments, while the major providers still operate a ‘use it or lose it’ arrangement for the vast majority of products.

Overall, postpaid customers are most likely experiencing a net gain for the price of data when you consider trends and data bundles over prior years, but that will not stop some feeling cheated by the telcos today.

What should be worth noting is that there are numerous initiatives from the telcos to assist various segments of society through this period. Vodafone and EE, for instance, are offering free unlimited data upgrades for customers who are essential workers, while all fixed broadband companies have lifted data caps on services.

uSwitch warns 5G won’t cover 4G’s inadequacies

Comparison website uSwitch.com has put somewhat of a dampener on 5G festivities with a warning that the 4G journey has not been completed just yet.

With three of the four MNOs up-and-running in the 5G world, attention has been drawn away from 4G networks. This is where uSwitch is finding frustration, as it points to the fact 5G connectivity at scale is still a long-off ambition and millions will continue to rely on the success of 4G networks for years to come.

“With so many of us completely reliant on our smartphones these days for our news, work, shopping and social media updates, there is little more frustrating than being unable to connect to phone services which we pay for,” said Ernest Doku of uSwitch.com.

“Ofcom reports that 66% of the UK has 4G coverage from all major provider, but more than 23 million people are still facing difficulties connecting to their networks. This can sometimes be blamed on network congestion at busy times, but often the capacity simply isn’t there for the numbers of people wanting to access a service they have paid for.”

According to research from uSwitch, 17.1 million people or 33% of adult smartphone users have trouble connecting to 4G at least once a week. 5 million suggest they struggle to connect to their devices each day, while another 5 million are frustrated by connectivity on public transport.

4G Availability
London 84.4%
Yorkshire and Humber 83%
North East 82.5%
North West 82.1%
Northern Ireland 82%
West Midlands 81%
East Midlands 78.7%
South East 78.3%
Eastern 78%
Scotland 77.2%
Wales 75.9%
South West 75.4%

Source: Opensignal – data collection, Jan 1 – Dec 31, 2018

The figures do seem to vary quite significantly across the UK, though recent research from Opensignal suggests that numerous large cities are falling considerably short of 100% 4G coverage. London, often seen as the hub of connectivity and innovation in the UK, only has 84% 4G coverage across the city, while Wales and Scotland lag behind the rest of the country in 4G availability, at 76% and 77% respectively.

It might an impossible dream to secure 100% 4G availability, all the time, though it does raise questions. Are the telcos paying enough attention to 4G connectivity?

What is worth noting is that there are initiatives underway to ensure 4G is given the attention it demands. Three recently announced it was upgrading 6,000 cell sites to pave the way for the introduction of new 1400 MHz spectrum, while it is also re-farming 3G airwaves. Both of these initiatives should enhance the 4G experience for customers.

Although it might be a bit of a negative statement from uSwitch.com, the team is absolutely correct. Migration to 5G will not happen overnight and it will take years for networks to be deployed. 4G and 5G will run alongside for years to come, especially when you consider the price accessibility of 5G-compatiable devices.

UK mobile commerce is exploding – research

New research from price comparison site uSwitch.com reveals that the use of mobile devices to go shopping in the UK is growing rapidly.

They got market research firm Opinium to chat to 2,000 adult Brits about their mobile commerce habits and intentions. The survey concluded that we will blow £25 billion buying stuff with our phones and tablets this year, up from £15 billion last year. Furthermore they reckon 30 million of us will use our phone to shop this year, which will represent a 66% annual increase.

“With smartphone and tablet shopping now a £25 billion industry, it’s hardly surprising that  major retailers have long adopted a mobile-first approach to their websites and have even introduced their own apps to make the user experience as easy as possible,” said Ru Bhikha. “Cleaner user journeys and the ease of one-click purchasing will only add to the number of people shopping on their phones and tablets.”

The main appeal, unsurprisingly, is simple convenience, with the ability to shop at any time coming in a close second. Other prominent reasons given for shopping over your phone seem to apply to all e-commerce, including the ability to compare prices, greater choice and better prices.

The survey also asked questions about e-commerce habits in general. As you can see in the table below Amazon and eBay have a clear lead over the online manifestations of bricks-and-mortar retailers, although the latter seem to be doing a decent job of trying to keep up. Somewhat surprisingly clothes are by far the most bought type of product online, followed by books, groceries and cinema/theatre tickets. The living room is by far the most popular location for blowing all this cash.

Website % of shoppers to have used website last year
Amazon 89%
eBay 63%
Argos 41%
Tesco 35%
Marks and Spencer 25%
Asda 25%
Sainsbury’s 22%
John Lewis 20%
Currys PC World 17%

Source: uSwitch.com

Rural connectivity still a minor concern for some people, finds uSwitch

Price comparison service uSwitch has done a survey that found some people are deterred from moving to the country because they’re worried about connectivity.

Yes, we know, not the most earth-shattering revelation, but it’s a Friday and some people might care. The table below shows how urban survey respondents answered when asked “Have you read or heard about any of the following issues used to describe living in the countryside?” Just over half (around 900 respondents) flagged up connectivity issues and uSwitch has decided that’s enough data to justify the following headline for its press release: “Dodgy broadband deters nine million from rural living”.

Rural living concern % of people concerned
Poor transport links 61%
Slow or unreliable broadband connections 58%
Poor or no mobile signal 55%
Lack of public services (eg doctor surgeries, schools etc) 48%
Lack of activities available (eg cinemas, restaurants etc) 42%

“It’s ludicrous that in 2018 broadband and mobile phone signal is a factor influencing where in the UK people choose to live,” said Ernest Doku of uSwitch. “The only explanation is that providers have been guilty of a ‘build it and they will come’ mentality – simply assuming that their work is done as soon as they have provided the infrastructure for faster services and not doing enough to make sure that their customers are aware that better services are available.”

So the big scoop seems to be that, despite rural connectivity infrastructure being quite good, a few people don’t realise that and so factor that into their thinking when contemplating a move to the country. Cost, commuting, other infrastructure and their feelings about the smell of dung may also play a part too, of course.

Even by the standards of politicians, the canned quote uSwitch got from Shadow Digital Minister Liam Byrne was shamelessly opportunistic. “These Teletext Tories are simply failing to provide the investment we need to rollout high speed broadband in areas that are harder to reach,” he whittered. “This has not been helped by the fact we’ve seen four different culture secretaries in just two years and now we’re lagging behind our European neighbours. The Tories seem determined to leave Britain as a cyber slow coach.”

It’s not obvious what the point of all this was. USwitch has a strategic interest in making everyone in the UK as dissatisfied with their utilities as possible, because then they’re more likely to go to uSwitch and use it to shop around, resulting in revenue for uSwitch. But which demographic is more likely to change CSP as a result of this news?

Ofcom makes switching mobile provider easier, Three still moans

There’s no Christmas slowdown for UK telecoms regulator Ofcom as it announces another initiative, this time to facilitate switching between mobile providers.

Attempting to move from one provider to another in the UK has long been an odious business. Call centers that usually take hours to respond to calls miraculously find ‘customer care’ agents immediately when you call the special ‘I’m thinking of leaving’ line.

These specialists are armed with an arsenal of weapons, techniques and strategies all designed to prevent you leaving. Sometimes these are benign, such as offering special deals, but if they fail there appear to be a range of obstacles, penalties and implied threats available to inflict on the hapless subscriber, all designed to make the process of leaving so painful that they’re likely to give up.

This has, of course, been the case for decades, but Ofcom has finally got around to doing something about it. According to the new rules imposed upon UK mobile operators, which they have 18 months to implement, punters can now simply ask for a code – via a text, call or website – and their incumbent provider has to deliver it within 24 hour, no questions asked.

Yes, we know that’s a tricky concept to get your head around. Luckily Ofcom has done a little diagram to break it down for you.

Ofcom switching

“Too many people are put off by the hassle of switching mobile provider. Our changes will make it quicker and easier for mobile phone users to get a better deal,” said Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director. “Customers will control how much contact they have with their current mobile provider, preventing companies from delaying and frustrating the switching process.”

The biggest beneficiary of this is likely to be Three, the smallest of the major UK MNOs. Three has issued a statement grudgingly applauding the move, but still moaning that it didn’t go further.

“For more than a decade Three has been encouraging Ofcom to do more to ensure that consumers can easily switch mobile phone provider and get the best deal,” said a Three spokesperson. “While we are pleased that there is now a simpler process, we believe that Ofcom’s decision not to prevent ‘last ditch’ deals means that the UK still lags behind its international peers in terms of consumer rights.”

Three seems to be saying Ofcom should have forced providers to make no other contact with their customer once the code request was received. It’s easy to see why that would serve its own interests but not how this serves the customer. Threatening to leave is one of the best ways to get a better deal from your incumbent provider and objecting to that process does not reflect well on Three. What’s not to like about being offered a discount?

USwitch, a price comparison site that makes money from people using its platform to switch providers, is also pleased but still wants more. “It is encouraging to see Ofcom taking steps to make it easier for customers to take their mobile number between mobile providers,” said Richard Neudegg of uSwitch.

“Our own research from earlier this year found that while one in five thought text-to-switch would make them more likely to switch provider, more than double would have been encouraged to change under a gaining-provider led process, the alternative system that Ofcom decided against. While it’s disappointing Ofcom did not go further, this is still an improvement that will make it easier for more customers to get a better deal.”

The gaining-provider led process once more silences the incumbent provider by handing control of the switching process to the new one. Again, while it’s easy to see why this would be in uSwitch’s interest as it would probably increase the volume of switching, it’s less clear how this would benefit the punter.

UK Indoor mobile reception still a bit rubbish – uSwitch.com

Price comparison site uSwitch surveyed around 2,000 UK mobile users to ask about their mobile phone experiences.

The headline stat is that 29% of them said they have poor or no indoor reception at home. As you can see from the first table below this phenomenon is worst in the country and best in the suburbs. It’s also worth noting that every type of location said their reception is less rubbish than it was a year ago.

uswitch uk indoor coverage 1

Ernest Doku, of uSwitch said a bunch of stuff. “When it comes to indoor mobile coverage, we’ve seen a slight improvement over the last year,” he said. “This is good news for the areas that have noticed a significantly lower incidence of intermittent or poor mobile reception in their own homes – notably mobile users in inner cities and suburban neighborhoods – but it’ll be of little consequence to those that are still suffering.

“The urban vs rural disparity is especially concerning. Mobile users living in the countryside are left feeling failed by providers that are yet to effectively extend their coverage outside of built-up areas. This discrepancy is starkly illustrated by this research which has seen negligible improvements made to indoor mobile service in rural areas over the last year. Whilst progress should be applauded and this prioritised focus on more densely populated areas is great for many consumers, it is of little consolation for those still living in mobile not-spots.”

There was lots more but that was mostly the inevitable calls for people to shop around. Isn’t it funny how often research commissioned by price comparison sites concludes that people need to compare prices? But having an ulterior motive doesn’t necessarily discredit the data. The next table below shows there’s not a lot of difference in indoor reception between the big UK operators. Then there’s a somewhat confusing one that seems to imply over half of people experience moody calls at home 19% of the time.

uswitch uk indoor coverage 2

uswitch uk indoor coverage 3