Newly-released figures from Ofcom show the time Brits spent talking on their mobile devices “rose significantly” during the early weeks of lockdown.
The Mobile Matters report shows the time spent in calls jumped by nearly 50% in March, with the average call time rising from three minutes and 40 seconds to just under five and a half minutes.
Ofcom said the increase was likely due to people phoning friends and family. However, remote working practices introduced during lockdown will also have played a significant role in the rise.
Commenting on the report, Ofcom’s Director of Market Intelligence Ian MacRae said: “Staying in touch has never been more important and our analysis paints a fascinating picture of how people moved around and used their phones during the lockdown.
“People spent much longer talking on their phones and while city centres were much quieter than before, green spaces across the UK had much higher phone use,” he said.
Despite an increase in call times, the report notes that lockdown does not appear to have prompted major changes to the way people now communicate via their mobile devices.
In the first 11 weeks of the year, just over one-in-five (22%) of people didn’t make any “traditional” calls. The number of people making traditional calls after lockdown measures were introduced stayed roughly the same, the report says.
According to Ofcom, smartphone apps such as WhatsApp may play a role in this, with fewer people choosing to make calls via traditional means and using mobile data when calling instead.
MacRae said the increased availability of high-speed mobile networks appears to have rapidly changed mobile user habits.
“Our data shows that for the large majority of the time people were able to connect to high-speed 4G networks,” he said.
The pandemic lockdown also changed where people used their mobile phone. Mobile activity in the centre of Britain’s capital cities fell rapidly at the beginning of lockdown, as people began to work from home more often.
Belfast, Edinburgh and London all saw sharp drops in mobile activity, particularly in central areas. Similarly, suburban and rural parts saw an increase as people spent more time in their local areas.
Outdoor Mobile Activity
The Ofcom research also shows how some people used the initial lockdown period to get outdoors and enjoy greener parts of their respective cities.
London’s Richmond Park was a hotspot of activity during the early stages of lockdown, and the report also shows a spike in activity in a number of Edinburgh’s most popular areas.
Sites in Edinburgh where activity increased included Inverleith Park, where the number of mobile connection tests was up by 160% between the middle of January and the end of April.
Mobile activity on Blackford Hill also shot up by 271% during the same period. Ofcom said the statistics were “unsurprising” given their popularity as local green spaces.
As expected, Edinburgh city centre saw a significant decrease in the number of people using mobile networks, as most offices, shops and hospitality venues were forced to close during the initial phase of lockdown.
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In the West End and Tollcross, there was a 90% decrease in mobile activity during 20-26 April compared to pre-lockdown. This is likely due to fewer people commuting into town or shopping in the same way as before.
The use of WiFi networks also decreased in central areas during the lockdown, with fewer people connecting to public and office WiFi services. The same drop occurred in areas with large shopping centres such as the Gyle in south-west Edinburgh and Ocean Terminal in Leith.
Meanwhile, residential areas such as South Queensferry, Barnton and Bruntsfield all experienced an increase in Wi-Fi connections indicating that more people were connecting to WiFi at home.