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The future will be livestreamed: consumers keep sharing milestone moments via mobile video apps even as covid restrictions end

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As the UK government removes all remaining Covid-19 restrictions in England, new data reveals that UK consumers significantly increased their use of livestreaming and video calling apps to share important life events – or ‘milestone moments’ – during the countrywide lockdowns, and intend to keep doing so even now that restrictions are coming to an end.

During the pandemic, one in ten people in the UK have attended a wedding over livestream, 13% have celebrated a birthday and 12% have attended a funeral remotely. 6% have even witnessed a birth over livestream – this jumps up to 12% for 18–24-year-olds, and 14% for Edinburgh residents. Of the quarter (24%) of Brits who attended a gender reveal party, 30% attended remotely.

The representative survey of 2,023 UK adult consumers, conducted by mobile network benchmarking company Global Wireless Solutions (GWS), demonstrates a clear resilience in the trend towards hybrid events.

But there is a clear generational divide when it comes to attending milestone moments via livestream, with 18-24s most likely to say they have attended any kind of personal event via livestream, and over 55s the least likely to say so. The single exception to this trend is attendance of funerals: 13% of over 55s attended a funeral virtually compared to 12% of 18-24 year olds.

Men are significantly more likely than women to say they have attended milestone moments remotely during the pandemic. Of the Brits who attended a wedding during the pandemic, 31% attended remotely and 68% of those were men. Similarly, 36% of those who attended an engagement party did so remotely and, once again, 71% of them were men.

So what happens now restrictions are coming to an end? It looks as though, similar to the world of work, our personal lives are set to take on a hybrid mix of digital and in-person events. More than 1 in 10 people plan to attend birthdays and funerals remotely in the coming year; weddings are the most likely to be attended remotely, with just over two fifths of people (41%) suggesting they would attend a wedding virtually if invited. Remote graduations also remain within the plans of many: over half (54%) of those with a graduation on the horizon say that they plan to attend virtually.

Significant disparities appeared in the livestreaming experience depending on network that was being used. O2 customers appear to be best-served, with over half (51%) encountering no issues at all when livestreaming from their mobile phone (only 37% of Three Mobile customers and 42% for both EE and Vodafone customers said the same).

Of the eight specific livestreaming issues GWS asked about, Vodafone had the most complaints in four out of the eight issues, Three in three, EE in one and O2 in zero.

O2 customers in the nation’s capital also remain in good shape when it comes to reliability, with the network pipping its rivals to the post in the latest GWS network testing. O2 beat the UK’s other major phone operators – EE, Three and Vodafone – when testing in London for both voice and data reliability. Network reliability is consistently identified by consumers when asked about their priorities for mobile performance. This year was no exception with over half of consumers reporting that call connection, call quality as well as data reliability (enabling uninterrupted browsing) were crucial for network performance.

Fortunately for all UK consumers, network reliability is set to see a significant boost as the ongoing deployment of 5G powers on. Last year GWS devices connected to 5G between 40-56% of the time across all major operators, compared to just 10-25% the previous year, easily doubling the UK’s 5G connectivity. During testing, GWS also noticed new 5G channels in the network vs. last year’s drive. In particular, EE and O2 have launched a 2nd 5G channel in the 3500MHz band; also, O2, EE and Three were all showing a small amount of 5G presence in the 700MHz band. In addition, tests found a small amount of 5G coverage on a 15MHz channel in the 2100 band for EE.

This strong progress in the deployment process is fuelling consumer anticipation, with Brits increasingly excited by the prospect of 5G and the sense that it will further support the new ways we communicate and socialise online. ‘Keeping in touch with friends and family’ is the area of life where most people think 5G will have the biggest impact (22%), followed by gaming (21%) and work (16%).

For all the negative publicity around potential negative health risks of 5G, only 3% of Brits say this is a concern for them – but apathy remains a bigger issue. One fifth (20%) of Brits don’t think 5G will have any impact on their lives, and just 35% of those with 5G-enabled phones are completely satisfied with the 5G coverage provided by their mobile operator, suggesting the telecoms industry still has some work to do to demonstrate the benefits of 5G technology.

Paul Carter, CEO, Global Wireless Solutions, comments: “Consumers are increasingly recognising the extraordinary benefits of next generation, super reliable mobile networks. It is reassuring that even through the isolation so many of us felt through Covid lockdowns and restrictions, technology exists that could bring us back together.

“Virtual celebrations may not ever replace the feeling of connecting with loved ones in person, but it can provide many more people with the power to share in moments that they would otherwise miss. It is to the credit of strong mobile connectivity that we have reached this stage. The next step must be to cement the incredible gains 5G has made within the UK and scale the final few hurdles of the deployment process.”

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