Feature Article

August 19, 2013

EE Reveals Mobile Index on How UK Customers are Using 4G Service-Look Out, Wi-Fi!

For my avid followers, you are aware of my passion (some say obsession) with industry statistics. In fact, while the old industry analyst in me likes perusing analyst reports on various markets and the trials and tribulations of the vendors, what I find compelling is when there is a release of information that is more than anecdotal about customer usage. These releases say as much about markets as supplier shares, and probably more. 

You also know that I like to recommend things based on whether they are either worth your time or a “must read.” The latter category has a new name to add to the list with the publication today of the by upstart U.K. 4G mobile services provider EE of its 4GEE Mobile Living Index.   

From a standing start, EE in 10 months has leveraged its being the first U.K. operator to launch 4GLTE service into a customer base of over 700K. The Index, which combines statistics from EE’s 4G mobile network with an in-depth survey of 4GEE customers, covers roughly half a year’s worth of usage information and the attitudes of 1,000 of its customers. It provides a fascinating look at the U.K.’s mobile behavior. Its 24 pages are packed with detailed insights into how faster mobile Internet speeds are changing people’s lives and altering the options they use to upload and access content on their portable connected devices.

As Pippa Dunn, consumer chief marketing officer for EE, said: “The way our 4GEE customers are using their mobiles and tablets has evolved significantly since we brought superfast 4G to the U.K. just 10 months ago...EE’s introduction of 4G to Britain is giving customers new flexibility and independence. It lets them share more, stream more, and spend more while on the move...EE’s 4G coverage now reaches nearly 60percent of the U.K. We are entering a new digital era, the era of the ‘always online’ generation.”

4G Really is Transforming the Mobile Landscape

Below are just a few of the interesting factoids in the report. 

  • One in four ultra-social Britons check social apps more than 10 times a day on their 4G smartphone or tablet
  • Survey reveals Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the U.K.’s favorite social media apps over 4G
  • People sharing videos and pictures leads to network upload traffic overtaking download at key events
  • One in three are streaming more video over 4G than they did using 3G, with BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Sky Go being the favorite TV services
  • 71 percent shopping on their 4G smartphone or tablet, with men three times more likely than women to spend over £200 a month on their mobile

4G Going Beyond Early Adopters

  • Whereas men were first to adopt 4G in the early months after its launch in the UK, women now make up nearly half of EE’s new 4G customers
  • 4G users on average are five years younger than 3G users

Streaming Video Goes Mainstream and Creates a Second Screen

  • Video downloading, uploading and streaming makes up 26 percent of network traffic over 4G – with YouTube accounting for 14 percent alone
  • Half of all 4G customers (49 percent) own tablet devices alongside their smartphones 
  • Streaming peaks during morning, lunch, and evening commutes, especially throughout the evening
  • A wave of people streaming the Wimbledon Final resulted in the busiest day ever for EE’s 4G network – 20 percent higher than ever before. People are using 4G devices as second screens or switching to tablet devices in their downtime
  • People are streaming more over devices with big screens like the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Note 2, which drive 60 percent more streaming of video data than smartphones

4G Unleashes Britain

  • Two in three say they are using the mobile Internet over 4G at least an hour a day, with 23 percent saying they are online via their 4G mobile devices more than three hours a day
  • Nearly 50 percent say they browse the Webmore on 4G than 3G, and over one in three say they download apps, use GPS services and access social media more with 4G than 3G
  • 43 percent say they use fewer or no public Wi-Fi hotspots since having 4G
  • 23 percent say they use their home broadband less since moving to 4G

Wi-Fi Beware! Uploading is Also Coming on Fast

The last bullet on the last list is the one that is grabbing headlines. Around the world, carriers are looking to Wi-Fi offload as a means to avoid bad user experiences in congested areas and cable companies are looking to Wi-Fi as a means to extend their reach without having to partner with mobile carriers. Yet, if these numbers are leading indicators, user behavior may cause operators of all stripes to re-think some of their assumption. 

I also want to note that while there are lots of interesting graphics of the above items, the one that should titillate your interest into downloading the entire report is the one below.

Fotis Karonis, chief technology officer of EE, said, “A large proportion of activity on our 3G network is Web browsing. But on 4G customers enjoy traditionally fixed line activities such as shopping, watching movies and catching up with TV on their mobiles. It is a real evolution, with a quarter of our customers now spending more than three hours a day on the mobile Internet.”

“What is really interesting is that with 4G upload speeds five times faster than home broadband, we are seeing social media use becoming more mobile and transforming faster than had been imagined,” Karonis continued. “For the first time in the U.K., the amount of data uploaded onto our network has surpassed downloads at major events such as the London Marathon and Baroness Thatcher’s funeral. 4G users are intuitively taking advantage of increased upload speeds. We predict data volumes over social media sites will increase tenfold by 2015.”

EE also pointed out that as more people make their smartphones and tablets their communications platforms of preference, the company extends service to areas that do not have broadband access via fixed or wireless networks; the need for speed is going to attract more and more usage of 4G. 

What is not mentioned in the report is the impact of pricing plans on all of this. EE notes that it does not see 4G necessarily decreasing Wi-Fi usage, but in essence is additive. The fact is that Wi-Fi is the smartphone default setting for when both mobile and Wi-Fi networks are present and in the U.S. for example this is a good thing since it mitigates the cost of using up mobile data plans in a hurry, i.e. watching streamed video.  

Even with that important caveat, the trends highlighted are important to watch. The nature of traffic is changing, and user behavior is a leading indicator for network planners and marketing people to fully understand. If nothing else the impact on service provider business models and the positioning of pricing plan alternatives is going to be a challenge. These results point to the need to be flexible and adaptive since the market clearly is going to be one of “different strokes for different folks.” 

I for one can’t wait for the next index. Plus, call me selfish but something similar that looked at the U.S. market would be extremely helpful for all of us who watch the industry.




Edited by Alisen Downey


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