• Global Wireless Solutions has found evidence of a noticeable ‘digital divide’ in the UK, caused in part by poor home network performance
  • Survey data combined with scientific testing of home internet connections in over 2000 households reveals that connectivity speeds are considered inadequate in 30% of properties
  • Based on Ofcom standards, only 64% of properties have ‘decent’ broadband service
  • The study also reveals that professional lives are being impacted, as 37% admit they judge the competence of colleagues that have connectivity issues during voice and video calls
  • When faced with internet connection problems, over half (52%) admitted to feeling isolated during the lockdown when they couldn’t communicate with others effectively

 25 November 2020: With the country still in the midst of a second national lockdown, leading mobile network benchmarking firm Global Wireless Solutions (GWS) has today released the results of its latest major study into real-life consumer experiences of home internet connections in the UK, which uncovers evidence of a stark ‘digital divide’ in the UK. As more people come to rely on video for working and communicating with family, friends and colleagues, nearly a third (30%) are suffering from inadequate throughputs – download speeds lower than 2 Mbps or upload speeds lower than 1 Mbps. Further, according to Ofcom, speeds higher than 10 Mbps for download and 1 Mbps for upload is considered a “decent” broadband service; using this criterion only 64% of homes have “decent” service.

The extensive study involved GWS testing the speeds of home internet connections in over 2,000 households along with conducting in-depth consumer research into how home internet performance has impacted people over the course of the pandemic. The study primarily involves ISPs, as almost all (89%) of the homes tested and surveyed use their home broadband network to connect to the internet, as opposed to their mobile network.

Divided and feeling isolated

The findings from the study suggest that there is a noticeable ‘digital divide’ in the UK, with inequalities of home internet performance impeding some consumers’ abilities to work and stay ‘connected’ during the ongoing pandemic and lockdown periods. When connected to their home internet, 62% of all respondents reported experiencing a range of issues from being unable to load websites, stream videos or connect to video conferences. Due to these problems, over half (52%) of the respondents claimed they felt isolated at some point during the first national lockdown.

Internet inequalities for home workers

While business offices likely ensure a level playing field when it comes to internet bandwidth, home offices have uncovered inequalities that are negatively impacting professional lives. Half of the respondents admit to feeling ‘judged’ about their competency if their network doesn’t hold up when speaking to colleagues in a work setting from home. The findings suggest that this is not just about feeling incompetent, as over a third of respondents (37%) admitted they also question their colleague’s competence when they see them suffering from connectivity issues; this figure increased to over a half (55%) in Greater London, suggesting that those in the capital are less tolerant of connection issues.

As the country’s reliance on video conferencing has grown, people are most likely to worry about network performance on video or voice calls, as 34% have had problems with video calling and conferencing over the last few months. Moreover, just over 1 out of 10 admitted that they have had a colleague comment on their poor connection during a voice or video call (this increases to nearly 2 out of 10 among the younger workers aged 18 to 24). But the data shows that video calling is here to stay, as the majority of the people in the UK (65%) intend to continue using video calling platforms after the technology’s prolific rise this year.

Can 5G help narrow the divide?

The study also found that while those in urban areas were more likely to feel isolated by poor home internet connectivity, rural respondents were more likely to do something about it. 60% of urbanites admitted they felt unable to communicate effectively with others at some points during this year, yet this was the case for only 43% living in rural areas. In terms of addressing these issues, just over a quarter (27%) of all respondents would change providers if problems persisted, increasing to 39% for respondents living in rural areas. People are also relying increasingly on the availability of their mobile signal at home. When experiencing poor connectivity during a video call, 20% of all consumers said that they will switch from their WiFi to their mobile network.

The study reveals that some consumers are also optimistic about the promise of 5G, as over a quarter (26%) think that 5G will help fix the nation’s ‘digital divide’ in the future. This figure increased to 34% for those living in urban areas.

Paul Carter, CEO, Global Wireless Solutions: “The fact that a third of homes in the UK don’t have sufficient speeds to perform routine tasks is disappointing. It’s a real eye opener, particularly at a time when everyone is at home and relying on their networks more than ever. Like it or loathe it, life as we know it has changed and having a sufficient internet connection is essential for being able to work and live. Without reasonable throughputs, consumers risk feeling disconnected, frustrated, and anxious.

But there is hope. While it’s unsurprising that people who have poor internet connections will change broadband providers when they can, we’re also seeing people willing to switch to mobile which most likely indicates that indoor mobile coverage is improving over previous years. This will only be intensified by the rollout of 5G around the country. We have been testing the performance of 5G in cities across the UK and we are already seeing promising speeds within urban areas. As such, 5G should be a potential solution to the problems that so many homes are currently experiencing throughout the UK. This is probably why savvy consumers are already heralding it as the future to help fix the nation’s digital divide.

In addition, consumers in the UK should know that, per Ofcom, they have a right to request a decent broadband service. Many of the participants in our study may want to consider this or go completely wireless and work through their mobile operator.”


GWS conducted the research and scientific testing between 30.09.2020 – 10.11.2020 using Censuswide. Total sample size involved 2007 respondents aged 18+ in the UK; all survey respondents have a smartphone, and completed the testing and survey from home. Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.

About Global Wireless Solutions, Inc.

Global Wireless Solutions, Inc. defines the industry standard for network benchmarking, analysis and testing. Working with some of the world’s largest wireless network providers, GWS offers standardised, high-quality network data and engineering analysis through a suite of benchmarking products, services, and OneMeasure diagnostic apps that includes drive, venue, and in-building testing. Founded in 1996, GWS is headquartered in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. At last count, GWS has driven more than 13 million data collection miles for its customers. For more information, visit www.gwsolutions.com and follow us on Twitter at @gwsolutionsinc.

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