How have our phone call habits changed due to COVID-19

It is no surprise to learn that our habits changed during the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Many will be aware of the zoom craze, with the countless hours worth of quizzes to get us all through, but whilst there was a rise in new media it was the old, somewhat forgotten mediums of communication that many found solace in, the humble phone call mainly.

In a world of social media and instant messaging the phone call has fallen out of favour, especially with the younger generation, so how has a worldwide lockdown impacted how we use our phones? The short answer is we are using them as phones once again, rather than the handheld computers they have now become but we will delve a little deeper to see what the numbers show.

United Kingdom

So we start with the UK, like most countries the lockdown began in March, at which point, mobile provider O2, said that 25% of 18-24-year-olds had not made a traditional phone call, one that is done on a phone network rather than mobile data, by the time we went into lockdown. This paints a picture of how the younger generation use their phones, but it is worth noting that this is only based on traditional phone calls, with things like Facetime and WhatsApp video calls not included in this. There are no figures for the number of people who have made a traditional phone call since then but it is safe to say that a majority of us have made a phone call since March.

The younger generation have definitely shifted back towards the traditional way of phone communications, this could be due to them not being able to meet older family members so reverting back to something they feel more comfortable on is the only way to contact them. If we have a look at the trends in the data for the early part of the lockdown you can see that phone calls quickly became an important part of everyday life. 

  • Landline Calls – In March they were up by 49% and in April they rose by 51%
  • Length of Calls – Overall call length increased 85% on weekdays and 65% on the weekends
  • The overall length of calls increased from 3:40 to 5:26, so nearly a two-minute difference.
  • EE found that voice calls lasting longer than 5 minutes have doubled, with overall voice calls up by 45%.
  • More rural call volume, a shift in focus from the city where phone call volume normally peaks.

All of this shows that the traditional phone call was on the rise and became part of everyday life. What this has shown is that as we as a population were forced apart, we turned to phone calls for that intimate connection in our lives. This seems to be especially true when you consider that weekdays saw a larger increase in volume, this would indicate that the lack of office time and colleague interaction had an impact on people whether they knew it or not.

Whilst we have focused mainly on the personal usage of there was also an impact on other areas. In business there was a sharp rise in WFH, with teams now working remotely, meaning the usual lines of communication, namely walking over and talking to someone, are no longer viable. This is something that many believe will not change, if and when we return to some sort of normality, so businesses are going to be reliant on other ways to communicate with team members, the two standout ways being, video calls and voice calls. Apps like Zoom, Google Hangouts and Skype cover most of these but you may also see more businesses turning to VoIP phone systems, that allow people to connect remotely with just an internet connection. 

One final thing to mention is that those pesky cold callers have found the lockdown period harder, with a drop of 34% in March and 77% in April, compared to where they were predicted to be, although there is set to be a sharp rise in these over the coming months.

Europe

So we have looked at how the UK has shifted its communications focus back towards traditional phone calls, have we seen the same shift from our continental friends in Europe? Well, the answer is yes, in Spain, Telefonica reported that the overall increase in phone call volume on their network was 50% during lockdown. The Orange Group reported that in France mobile phone calls increased by 50% too and there was an overall increase of mobile phone usage of 41% according to Statista research. Finally, Poland saw an increase of 60% in mobile phone calls during their lockdown, once again showing that phone calls became a larger part of everyday life without the face to face interaction.

United States

Across the Atlantic, in the United States, there was also a sharp increase in phone call volume, with Verizon stating that they were dealing with 800,000 weekday calls with an increase of 33% in the overall length of these calls, this follows a similar pattern to the UK and Europe. AT&T also said they saw an increase in mobile phone call volume, with an increase of 35% overall. Whilst the numbers aren’t as high as in Europe and the UK, it may be that due to the size of the USA the population may be more accustomed to phone calls due to distance, something you generally don’t have to deal with in the smaller European nations.

One thing that seems to be slightly different to the European figures is that WiFi calls also increased dramatically in the US, 100% to be exact. This could very easily be down to the number of people who move to the USA from overseas and have family still there, meaning that calls via WiFi are not only vital but also free.

Rest of the World

Taking a look further afield and you can see that there is the same trend, but with growth not quite as significant as in Europe. India, one of the largest countries in the world experienced an increase in mobile phone calls of around 15-20%. This may not sound like a lot but in a country where WiFi calling is the predominant method of voice calls it is quite the jump.

Even further afield in Australia there was a more concerning stat from the start of the lockdown period with almost 3,000 calls to the countries suicide hotlines, an increase of 20%, so whilst we talk about the increase in phone calls to keep connected people are still finding lockdown life difficult, therefore staying connected is vital for everyone.

According to Statista, 70% of people in their study turned to their mobile phones moreover lockdown, so in conclusion, the answer to whether our phone call habits have changed during the COVID lockdown period is yes, and remaining in contact with each other has become an even more important in a world where contacting each other is as easy as it has ever been!