Evolution or revolution? Your network is your net worth

Our recent study, ‘Evolution or Revolution?’ set out to explore mobile operator marketing in the 5G and COVID-impacted world. One area we delved into was network reliability and quality. There were two key answers that we wanted from mobile service providers (MSPs):

1) How important was network quality during the pandemic? 

2) How significant is the shift to 5G?

Let’s tackle our first query. We’ve already established that the pandemic had a marked impact on customer demand, evidenced by a 30% increase in data (see our previous post for more details). While some customers were able to rely on their trusty home broadband set-ups, other customers became much more dependent on their mobile networks to sustain their new pandemic lifestyle. The home, having been transformed into a hotspot for working and studying, was now hosting more internet-enabled devices than ever before.

The pandemic made the indoor experience a primary focus for MSPs, especially for those who provided a less-than-exceptional network experience. It’s no secret that mobile networks are sometimes foiled by the indoors due to buildings blocking signals. To circumvent this, MSPs armed their customers with indoor base stations (also known as femtocells or home 4G modems) to bolster their signals. In addition, they took steps such as capping the maximum speed of their 4G modems to ensure there was enough speed for everyone. 

These were prudent moves to make as it was clear that good quality network experience was becoming a necessity. Certainly, this sentiment was echoed by one of the Asia-based operators that we spoke to; they shared that for the very first time their customers rated network experience as more important than price or value. Every penny counts until you can’t get on to that Zoom call three days in a row (!). 

So, to answer our first question: how important was network quality during the pandemic? Unsurprisingly – very.

Now, to tackle the second query which concerns the network of the future – 5G. 

For some customers, 5G has seamlessly fitted itself into their everyday lives and they have been able to benefit from speeds that often exceed that of their home broadband. For others though, it remains a future event to be anticipated as 5G is not yet available to them. This is generally down to either spectrum auctions that are yet to be arranged or MSPs still needing to establish their networks. Even in places where 5G networks are available, the high cost of 5G devices acts as a financial blocker; this is a more prominent issue in developing countries. 

5G represents exciting opportunities to step things up technologically. To name a few examples, we have the Internet of Things (IoT), live sports streaming and enhanced video. However, 5G does seem to be getting a mixed reception from consumers which in turn has led to mixed feelings from MSPs in terms of marketing it. One operator shared that they had observed a decline in customer interest in 5G. During 2020, this particular operator saw interest drop from 45% to 31% ­– nearly a 15% decrease. Why did this occur though? It’s possible that customers felt home broadband was good (or even great!) enough for what they wanted which effectively diminished their need for a mobile network, let alone a 5G mobile network. 

Another reason is the somewhat limited understanding of what 5G can do. While it offers multiple benefits for many, 5G has become synonymous with superfast download speeds. Without a doubt, faster internet is definitely a plus but is it crucial in this day and age? In the same way that some customers felt that their home broadband was sufficient, there are also some customers that are perfectly happy with their 4G download speeds, which are far from sloth-like. If 4G was fast enough for them, would faster download speeds provide enough motivation to upgrade? Arguably, not. One operator offered an analogy that perhaps sums this up: “your Netflix won’t go any faster on 5G than it does on 4G”. When you consider 5G in this context, would you bother upgrading?

So, back to our second question – how significant is the shift to 5G? With its vast potential to elevate several industries, it is very significant. Nevertheless, there is some work to be done to make this apparent to consumers. How will operators market this when there’s a reluctance to switch? While there is limited access to 5G networks and a reduced understanding of “superfast 5G” prevails, the potential of 5G may not be fully realised quite yet. 

To learn more about our study and how Opensignal is helping operators understand, improve and change perceptions about network experience, get in touch with us at www.opensignal.com/contact