As COVID-19 swept the globe in 2020, and as many countries implemented lockdowns and stay at home guidelines, the digital behaviors of people changed in many ways. The question is, will these behaviors endure when the virus is finally under control, or are these behaviors permanent? Only time will tell. Regardless, there have been meaningful increases in various kinds of digital activity, which are explored in this research project.
We have curated eleven pieces of information, data, and/or statistics surrounding internet usage globally. This has included, but not been limited to, smartphone internet usage, home usage and whether there are any age/country/gender related factors to this usage. We have also presented five pieces of information, data, and/or statistics surrounding social media usage. This has included, but not been limited to, the usage trends of Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. In another section, we have provided six pieces of information, data, and/or statistics surrounding the streaming habits of people, and we also identified five pieces of information, data, and/or statistics that focuses on videoconferencing. We rounded out this project by providing five pieces of information, data, and/or statistics surrounding 5G. This has included, but not been limited to, how the coronavirus has impacted its deployment and the expected impact it might have on media and data consumption (usage). For all aspects of this project, when we were able, we showed specific nuances across regions (NA vs. EMEA vs. APAC) where applicable. The entire research project is focused on the present time (with any comparisons to the past when relevant) and has a global focus.
Internet Usage Globally
- According to Akamai there was a 30% growth in global internet traffic in March 2020, which of course, marked the beginning of the pandemic according to WHO. Data from GlobalWebIndex [see page 47] supports this as this research reveals that people around the world are still spending markedly more time using the internet than they were at the start of the year before the virus officially started.
- According to Statistica, “there are about 4.57 billion people that were intentional internet users as of July 2020. This represents fifty-nine percent of the world’s population.” When digging into country data, the top three countries with the most internet users, in order, are China, India and the United States. When examining the penetration rate, globally, the online rate is fifty-nine percent, and when looking regionally within Europe, Northern Europe is number one with an astonishing penetration rate of ninety-five percent among the population. Looking at countries specifically, the UAE, Denmark, and South Korea have the highest penetration rates among all countries. It is no surprise that North Korea has no online usage penetration among the general population, making it dead last. When examining worldwide regional data, Asia ranks number one. It has more than a staggering two and a half billion online users. Europe was second, but far behind with just under 728 million internet users. To round out the rest of the regions, globally, North America has almost 333 million internet users, Latin America/Caribbean has just over 467 million, Africa has slightly over 566 million, the Middle East has just under 185 million, and Oceania/Australia has almost 29 million.
- Focusing on the United States, in-home device usage leaped at the beginning of the pandemic in March, which is understandable given the quarantine restrictions put in place by most countries. Comscore research reveals when comparing 2019 usage to 2020 usage, on average, in-home data usage levels remain higher than 2019 levels even beyond those first few weeks. Consumption across devices was up fourteen percent in June 2020 from the same month the year before. When looking at data usage broken down by platform, there was a fifty-five percent increase in May and a twenty-eight percent increase in June on Smart TVs. When looking at gaming console data usage, May demonstrated an eight percent year over year increase, and June showed no difference between the two years. Data usage from streaming boxes/sticks showed an increase of thirty-two percent in May 2020 over the prior year, and June saw a fourteen percent increase from 2019.
- When solely examining in-home total data usage on a weekly basis, the week of March 23rd, 2020 stands out the most with a forty-two percent YoY increase. It is of note, of course, that for many states this was the very first week of lockdowns so this is not a surprising figure. Fast forward to the week of June 29th, 2020, and while there was still a YoY increase, that forty-two percent increase shrank to just an increase of thirteen percent over the same week in 2019. Experts say that the slow down in the year over year growth might be attributed to weather, with more people simply wanting to get out and enjoy the start to their summer.
- We have created a custom Google spreadsheet that houses country data for Italy, Spain, France, Germany, China, United States, United Kingdom, Singapore, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Philippines, and South Africa surrounding internet home usage. We have also presented worldwide data. This can be accessed here. The data used is from a global survey conducted in March 2020 that shows the different in-home internet data usage people are revealing they are doing more of because of COVID-19. In-home usage covered watching more shows/films on streaming services (e.g. Netflix), spending longer on messaging services (e.g. WhatApp, Facebook Messenger, and other similar services), spending longer on social media (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other similar platforms), spending more time on computer/video games, listening to more streaming services (e.g. Apple Music, Spotify, and other similar services), creating/uploading videos (e.g. on Tik Tok, YouTube, and other similar platforms), and listening to more podcasts.
- Sandvine released a report in May 2020 that shows that global internet usage has increased substantially since the start of the pandemic. People all over the world are going online more than ever to engage in activities such as watching videos and using social media. The report reveals that between February 1 and April 19, 2020, overall internet traffic increased by more than forty percent. Of all internet traffic Sandvine monitors, they noted that video streaming is responsible for almost sixty percent of the traffic while eleven percent represents social networking, and eight percent is for general web browsing.
- In 2019 YouTube had less than nine percent of the share of global internet traffic, but in 2020 it almost doubled that share to sixteen percent, according to Sandvine. Even though gaming related internet traffic has made up only a paltry four percent of total internet activity during COVID-19, that figure is double from what it was sitting at in 2019.
- To bolster Sandvine’s research, “a May 2020 report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reached the same conclusion.” This study reveals that broadband networks have had increases in traffic of up to sixty percent, with the biggest spike coming from Canada, out of the 14 countries assessed.
- Fifty-eight percent of females asked in a June 2020 survey asserted that they felt an interruption to their internet service would be a major problem during COVID-19. When males were asked the same question, that percentage dropped to forty-four percent.
- Forty-eight percent of women around the world use the internet but while usage rates among genders in the developed world is equal, only 22.6% of Africa’s female population has regular internet access.
- While the data shown here is prior to the pandemic, we felt it might be interesting. The title of the research is misleading [8 charts on internet use around the world as countries grapple with COVID-19] as all charts are from spring 2019. Some topics covered in this source from Pew are of a generational, country, educational, and income perspective surrounding internet consumption and usage.
Social Media Usage Globally
- There are 3.91 billion active mobile social media users worldwide, and 3.96 billion active social media users irrespective of mobile.
- Focusing on populations aged 13 and above, an analysis of regional use of social media shows that the total percentage of active social media users in each region are reaching 74% in Eastern Asia, 82% in North America, 84% in Southern America, 78% in Northern Europe, 75% in Western Asia falling to 57% in Northern Africa, 31% in Central Asia, 14% in Eastern Africa, and 12% in Middle Africa.
- When it comes to the globe’s most used, and therefore most popular, social media platforms, Facebook reigns supreme. It is ranked considerably higher than its closest rival, YouTube. Facebook has, as of July 2020, just over 2.6 billion users worldwide, plus it has 2 billion users of its winning messenger platform, What’s App. In comparison, YouTube has 2 billion users. Instagram has added users to its platform since COVID-19, with 1.08 billion people now using this platform. This places Instagram comfortably in front of TikTok which has a reported 800 million users.
- GlobalWebIndex completed a massive study surrounding how COVID-19 has been influencing people’s digital behaviors across the world. It reveals that, on average, forty-three percent of people using the internet are spending much more time on social media. When digging into country data, there has been a reported increase of 64% in the Philippines, 59% in India, 55% in South Africa, 54% in Brazil, and 45% in Poland surrounding online social media use. The lowest percentage increases were seen in Germany (19%), Japan (23%), and the United States (28%). Australians are spending 33% more time on social media, with Singaporeans reporting an increase of 41% and the Chinese revealing that they are on social media 43% more often.
- A 2019 Children and parents: media use and attitudes report published by OfCom (UK) [but not published until February 2020] takes a peek into the possible future adult use of social media. They focus on four age cohorts, and key takeaways include 21% of 8-11 year olds have a social media profile, which staggeringly spikes to 71% of 12-15 year olds. YouTube is rated very high by both age groups, with 74% of 8-11 year olds and 89% of 12-15 year olds, using this platform.
Streaming Usage Globally
- Online streamers are spending more time online, which is not unexpected given the pandemic. Global online video streamers are spending 55% more time watching videos, 42% more time listening to streaming services, and 40% more time on computer/video games.
- Online video streamers tend to platform cross-view, that is, watch more than one platform. When examining this, it was found that Amazon Prime viewers are much less likely to view other platforms on a regular basis. Netflix viewers are spending significant amounts of time on the platform now. Forty-one percent watch this streaming service every day but that percentage bumps to sixty-three percent of people who watch 4 or 5 days in a given week. Almost half (4 out of 10) weekly Hulu viewers have been watching Netflix every day since the pandemic began.
- According to Alexia Quadrani, Head of U.S. Media Equity Research for J.P. Morgan, “[T]here has never been a point in history where so much original content is available. Amid the global pandemic, Verizon has reported that video streaming is up 12 percent. We think the ongoing spread of COVID-19 will lead to higher engagement and better subscriber growth for streaming services around the world near-term.”
- Doug Anmuth, Head of J.P. Morgan U.S. Internet Equity Research asserts that “[F]or the first quarter new Netflix subscriptions were 15.8 million, which far surpassed J.P. Morgan estimates of 8.8 million, with strong upside in every region. However, this significant growth was already trending above expectations before the global crisis. Over the next few months, [Anmuth notes] subscriber additions could depend on the length of stay-at-home confinement, but having a bigger base of users now should make Netflix a larger service over time.”
- In the United States, video game streaming is up seventy-five percent, according to Verizon data. A similar increase was observed in the first three weeks of February in China surrounding game time during lockdowns, with weekly game downloads up eighty percent compared to the full year of 2019, as revealed by App Annie.
- In the third week of March 2020, total streaming was 168.7 billion minutes in the United States, with the fourth week at 161.4 billion minutes compared to 76.4 billion minutes and 69.8 billion minutes during the last two weeks of March 2019.
Videoconferencing Usage Globally
- According to App Annie, video conferencing apps (commonly referred to as business communication apps) saw March 2020 produce record levels of growth. Stay at home and work from home guidelines has created a never before seen surge in video conferencing apps. During the second week of March, business focused mobile app downloads reached 62 million, an all time record. For comparison, again according to App Annie, that figure represents an increase of 45% from the beginning of March, and up a startling 90% from the pre-pandemic weekly download average.
- As is to be expected, business application downloads represent the highest growth in any category in both the iOS and Google Play stores. Digging into those apps, both Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts Meet rose in the rankings, but it was Zoom Cloud Meetings that was ranked the highest. When looking at country data, Zoom enjoyed large numbers of downloads in the United States, the United Kingdom, and across Europe. During that record-breaking week in the middle of March, “Zoom was downloaded 14 times more than its 2019 Q4 weekly average in the United States.; 20 times more in the United Kingdom; 22 times more in France; and an amazing 55 times more in Italy.” It is no coincidence that the countries that saw the biggest spikes are also the countries that initiated lockdowns first. Even though Zoom was the undisputed winner, both Google Hangouts Meet and Microsoft Teams also enjoyed spiking numbers of downloads. When looking at the same time span, “Hangouts Meet saw 30 times the weekly level of downloads compared to the last quarter of 2019 in the United States, while Teams saw an 11 times increase.”
- With stay at home orders, non-business use of video conferencing apps have also spiked. Instead of using those business oriented apps like Zoom and Teams, consumers are turning towards Houseparty. This is an app that has seen tremendous growth in Europe, especially among the generational cohort of Gen Z. Like so many things that are social media based, the more an app is used and recommended among friends and family, the higher the adoption rate. In other words, the more people that a user invites to a call, the stickier the app becomes. For example, “in Italy, there was a huge uptick in weekly downloads during March 15-21 with 423 times the level of average weekly downloads in Q4 2019.” Houseparty instantly became a hit of superstar proportions in Spain, going from relative obscurity in popularity to a 2360-fold download rate during the week of March15-21, firmly planting an undisputed foothold in a market previously without wide-scale penetration.
- According to Tom Eagle, senior research director at Gartner, “[T]he COVID-19 crisis will be a catalyst for transformative work cultures and practices that will be significantly characterized by remote work. Video conferencing will become an indispensable tool for workforce collaboration and communication. This is a direct result of today’s digital workplace and the changing nature of work — as well as the current COVID-19 crisis — continuing to drive demand for video conferencing at an accelerated pace.”
- According to research done by IBM in June, “eighty-one percent of those asked reported that they want to continue working remotely at least some of the time.” That is an increase from April where three-quarters of those asked said they wanted to do that. Well more than half of those surveyed (61%) are hoping that working from home will be the primary way they would work. Major corporations around the globe appear to agree with this sentiment, and have made some changes in their views surrounding remote work. According to a recent study by Morning Consult, “nearly fifty percent of adults who are able to work remotely believe that virtual meetings are at least as effective as in-person meetings.”
5G Deployment Globally
- It has been more than a year since the consumer launch of 5G in the United Kingdom and most people seem disinterested in it. Just 2% of adults between the ages of 16-75 say they are using 5G, as of May 2020. The impact of COVID-19 on consumer demand for 5G is multi-faceted, but understandable. Smartphone sales have had a downturn since lockdowns were implemented in the United Kingdom, which has reduced the switch to a 5G capable mobile device. Other key reasons include the shakiness of the economy has made consumer nervous about investing money in a new expensive device, with many ads centering around COVID-19, there is less buzz around new smartphone releases; because of stay at home orders and living in restricted bubbles, there is less socializing which means there are fewer opportunities to show off a new phone, and for “non-5G users to upgrade out of envy.”
- Globally, smartphone sales are forecast to be down twelve percent in 2020. “In the first half of the year, smartphone sales declined by 20 per cent, and the launch of some phones has also been delayed.”
- China has had a rapid deployment of 5G, with operators expected to spend $25.2 billion (£20 billion) deploying over 550,000 5G cells by the end of the year. When looking at South Korea they have reported approaching 7 million 5G subscribers as of the end of May 2020. Korean operators spent almost $3.4 billion (£2.6 billion) on 5G infrastructure in the first half of 2020 and plan to invest $22 billion (£17 billion) over the three years to 2022. In 2021, 5G coverage will include subways and all train stations in South Korea.
- In the United States, network operators have made some bold commitments that have both not panned out, and been accurate. AT&T planned to have a nationwide network by mid-2020, but this has been pushed back to the end of 2020 because of COVID-19. However, Verizon is sticking to its announced accelerated roll out, naming COVID-19 as an accelerator to its roll out.
- Even though conspiracy theories have proliferated surrounding the health risks associated with 5G, an Ericsson study found sixty-three percent of consumers, globally, thinking positively about 5G and the role it could have played during the pandemic, while almost fifty percent (4 in 10) wished 5G had been rolled out faster for them to benefit from higher speeds.