Americans Rely on Smartphones as they Weather the Pandemic

By Special Guest
Dr. Paul Carter, CEO, Global Wireless Solutions
  |  October 27, 2020

COVID-19 has brought about a lot of changes in the way we live and work. With many companies expanding teleworking practices, approximately 42% of the U.S. labor force now works from home. Some organizations have announced that teleworking will continue into next year. But, it’s not just where we work that has changed; the way in which we get our work done is changing, too.

With that in mind, Global Wireless Solutions (News - Alert) (GWS) conducted a survey of 5,000 US smartphone users in which consumer communication habits, including behavioral shifts during COVID-19 were thoroughly examined. The data shows that if consumers could only keep one product/service during the COVID-19 stay-at-home mandate, the top choice was their smartphones (45%), with other choices ranking significantly lower: PCs (19%), streaming services like Netflix (12%), their TVs (10%), and near the bottom, their cars (7%).

While carriers are currently meeting subscribers’ communication needs, Americans are turning to new products and technologies during the pandemic signaling that their needs and priorities will continue to evolve as we live, work and play from home. The data shows specific trends emerging from consumer behavior during the pandemic.

Voice calling reigns supreme

Carriers should take note that, despite the broader use of video calling and conferencing, voice calling remains vital to workforce communications during the pandemic. When asked which one mobile phone capability consumers would keep for at home teleworking, the top choice was voice calling (33%), followed by texting (28%), then video calling and conferencing (20%), emailing (15%), and, lastly, team collaboration (for example, Slack) (4%).

Video conferencing keeps us connected

Zoom was the top choice among video calling and conferencing tools during the COVID-19 stay-at-home mandate, with 24% of consumers picking it as their favorite, followed by Facebook Messenger (21%) and Apple (News - Alert) FaceTime (18%).

Zoom also experienced the greatest increase in consumer adoption, and GWS found it to be the most widely used video calling and conferencing app. Before the pandemic, Zoom was used by 20% of consumers at least once a month. That figure more than doubled to 42% during the stay-at-home mandate. Facebook (News - Alert) Messenger, on the other hand, was the most used conferencing app (35%) before the pandemic, yet it only rose to 38% during the stay-at-home mandate, making it the second most popular behind Zoom.

Buying takes a back seat

While mobile devices have been essential to consumers’ day-to-day lives for years, people are becoming increasingly reliant on smartphones during the pandemic as the lines between work and life are become increasingly blurred.

Surprisingly, though, most are sticking with their current mobile devices: 72% of consumers have not purchased a new smartphone yet this year. Of this group, half said the reason is they are satisfied with their current devices. Going forward, only 38% of consumers plan to buy a smartphone in the second half of 2020; 26% plan to do so in 2021 and 11% in 2022 or later.

Americans have undergone a fundamental shift over the past six months. All aspects of life have blended together and, as a result, how we work, learn, play and live due to the COVID-19 pandemic is now vastly different. Fortunately, carriers have risen to the challenge of supporting consumer needs. The lion’s share of consumers (84%) said their carriers have met mobile communications needs in terms of wireless performance at least most of the time. In fact, when needs are further broken down by network coverage, voice calling quality and reliability, and data throughput and reliability, 80% or more of the respondents felt their carriers met each of these needs most or all of the time.

In addition, when given the option to stay with their current operators or switch to another one, more than three-quarters (76%) of rural and suburban residents and more than half (51%) of urban residents would keep their current operators because they offers the services and/or devices they want.

This high level of customer “stickiness” can potentially be, in part, attributed to continued, strategic investments from carriers that align directly with consumers’ evolving needs and expectations. Carriers have focused on upgrading their network infrastructure to lay the foundation for 5G. This investment is not only helping meet consumer needs today, but will also enable networks to evolve alongside consumer demand in the coming years, supporting traffic increases, ensuring network reliability and increasing coverage areas.

In fact, as carriers continue to upgrade their networks, voice quality and other calling metrics have improved across all operators, according to GWS’ 2020 nationwide test of mobile networks. In addition, over the past three years network upgrades have resulted in data throughputs increasing by an average 62% across all carriers (AT&T increased over 100%, Verizon and Sprint (News - Alert) over 50%, and T-Mobile 29%).

Carriers have handled the shift to large-scale telework well, and were poised to do so because of long-planned advances in networks and technologies. As the way Americans work continues to transform while we search for some semblance of normalcy, consumers will keep turning to new products and technologies that hold the promise of making life easier. Carriers that continue to focus on quality and reliability by implementing new functionality and technologies will be better poised to meet their customers’ needs.


Edited by Erik Linask