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Stress Testing Connectivity During Lockdown

Research from Deloitte finds many households with remote workers and students are hitting the limits of broadband, wireless, and Wi-Fi networks. By Colleen Frye

THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC didn’t just stress our psyches, it stressed the connectivity infrastructure relied on by households full of people living, working, exercising, and studying online. For the most part, concludes the Connectivity & Mobile Trends 2021 Survey Deloitte conducted in March, it held up, but the research finds many households are hitting the limits of broadband, wireless, and Wi-Fi networks.

At the start of 2021, 55% of U.S. households had someone working from home and 43% had students online, according to the survey.

Consider the corresponding surge in connected devices. Since the pandemic began, 38% of respondents have connected more devices to their home internet. Indeed, the average U.S. household now has a total of 25 connected devices, up from 11 in 2019. These include laptops, tablets, and smartphones; video streaming devices and smart TVs; wireless headphones and earbuds; gaming consoles and smart home devices; and fitness trackers and connected exercise machines.

Source: Deloitte, Connectivity & Mobile Trends 2021 Survey

While about 70% of consumers said their home Wi-Fi met their needs for range and speed, 19% have upgraded to a higher-speed home internet service and 8% have switched providers, citing reliability issues, slow connectivity, and inadequate coverage throughout the home. Regarding the latter issue, 28% of home workers and 32% of home schoolers say they struggled to connect to the internet from certain locations at home. Respondents have tried to address this by purchasing Wi-Fi extenders (30%), mobile hotspots (19%), and mesh Wi-Fi networks (14%).

Unsurprisingly, reliance on smartphones and mobile apps also increased for tasks like ordering food and products and making contactless payments. A majority of respondents (70%) expect to continue using smartphones in this way post-pandemic.

Close to 40% of households made changes in their mobile data plans, citing an upgrade to a new phone as the highest driver, followed by a switch to an unlimited data plan and adding 5G. Finally, 52% say they will sign up for a 5G mobile data plan when it becomes available.

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