The network analytics data that explains consumer lockdown behaviour
If there is one positive to be taken from the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated lockdown measures put in place, it is that we are communicating more. Many of us have found the time to reconnect with family, a newfound love of quizzes with friends has emerged and even though we now spend less face-to-face time with colleagues, there has been a sharp rise in video conferencing and the use of messaging apps. People are talking more and are doing so in different ways, utilising Wi-Fi connections and voice calls more while using mobile data less, says Steven Parrott, vice president of strategy and product management, TOMIA
Human behaviour never ceases to surprise us and the way we have dealt with these unprecedented circumstances is, in a way, a unique social experiment. With the technology we have in place today, we can analyse these behaviour patterns in more detail and ascertain exactly why they happen.
With the increased volume of network traffic, data analytics provides insight into the changes in consumer behaviour relating to communication channels and platforms. Especially when you isolate the inter-carrier side of the telecoms industry, the system by which devices can connect and communicate with various networks, it is interesting to see how the traffic patterns have evolved.
Losing market share
In the voice sector of the interconnect space, operators typically exchange more than 350 billion minutes per year among each other and the market is valued at around US$13 billion annually. Although traditional voice calls still remain prominent, in COVID-19 times Over the Top (OTT) solutions and business apps such as Microsoft Teams, Whatsapp, and Zoom, are stealing some of that market share.
The effect that lockdown had on voice calls was a massive increase in the length of calls, representing billions of more minutes of usage every day. This, however, was more noticeable at the beginning of lockdown measures as seemingly more calls were being made to family members and work colleagues to discuss the immediate impact of the restrictions. Interestingly, the longer the lockdown went on, the volume of voice calls began to drop even though the average length of call time remained significantly higher than before lockdown measures.
This is likely due to subscribers moving to alternative solutions once in quarantine and opting for the aforementioned video or messaging options to communicate. Those who still carried out traditional voice calls were spending a lot more minutes on the phone, however, showing that the market opportunity for this form of communication is still extremely valuable and more importantly that voice calls and OTT solutions can co-exist.
Longer calls help revenues
For operators, the increased average length of calls meant a 15% to 20% increase in traffic on a normalised basis, which was especially pronounced in Europe and North America. It is important to recognise that this equates to an estimated 5 billion more calling minutes per month.
Over time, it is safe to assume behaviour will continue to change. Although many of us are still accustomed to traditional voice calls, in the long-term this can only be expected to change as we adapt to using alternative communication models. Especially as apps that were originally designed for business use such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams have started to be used for personal communication.
Evolve to survive
With these emerging patterns, it begs significant questions of the telecoms industry and the importance of investment in their networks. Simply put, operators, and operator business models, must evolve to survive.
As businesses get used to people working from home, they may get used to a new normal in which the go-to forms of communication are no longer mobile devices. And for those who are spending more minutes on the phone than ever, it may make sense to rethink the overall telecommunications. New business plans must be tailored to monetise consumer behaviour effectively.
As for the interconnect industry, with quarantine and restrictions being lifted, we are likely to see a rise in the volume of voice calls and a decrease in the average length of calls, as people begin to travel more and spend more time being active and out of their homes. They may make more short-length calls but will spend less time overall on the phone. This may lead to an associated decrease in the use of OTT solutions as people spend less time at home, too.
Ultimately, this will likely lead to a decrease in digital communication somewhere close to pre-lockdown levels as we spend more face-to-face time with people. But as recent events have proven, who can truly predict consumer behaviour?
The author is Steven Parrott, vice president of strategy and product management, TOMIA.