The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has radically altered working and leisure patterns for the entire country and how much we value internet connectivity. The vast majority of us are spending more time in the home environment than ever before. Anyone who can work from home, is working from home, and with most shops closed, social activities limited and lockdown policies enforced, people are relying on the internet for connection with the outside world.
As lockdown is gradually eased, how permanent will these changes be? How will our needs and expectations of connectivity look different in the future?
Online shopping is hardly a new invention of the lockdown period – but its scale and reach has increased enormously. The increases have been limited only by the shops’ own capacity to react to demand with Tesco doubling its online shopping deliveries in April and then adding a further 200,000 in the first ten days of May. Online shopping is not just a way for people to shop conveniently, it helps those more vulnerable to the virus stay safe and collect daily essentials such as food, toiletries and medication.
The convenience of online shopping, coupled with potential fears around infectivity and hygiene physical stores, may well mean that these patterns continue for long after shops have reopened. As the FT recently asked, will lockdown permanent change the way we shop?
Connecting with friends and family
With lockdown restricting the ability for people to visit their family social media and videoconferencing platforms have become much more popular. In China, Cisco noted an over 20-fold increase in users for their videoconferencing services. As for social media Facebook’s website has seen a 27% increase in use. However, the Facebook app has only seen traffic rise by 1.1% suggesting that the increase in the website traffic is sourced from new users from an older demographic that typically use desktops rather than apps. People who had avoided using these types of technologies have been forced to adapt in order to keep in touch with their loved ones. With that hurdle surpassed it is predicted that the use of videoconferencing facilities will remain high after lockdown.
Remote work and education
Arguably the most important ways in which we are staying connected in lockdown are through remote working and education. Both of these trends have been on the rise over the past decade or so, however, COVID-19 has accelerated their implementation. Connectivity is especially important for work and educational resources as they often need a large bandwidth in order to function properly. People who don’t have access to a strong connection have been struggling to cope with the demands of remote working. Moving forward to create a strong remote working culture, connectivity needs to be placed at the heart of infrastructure projects.
It seems likely that many organisations will permanently embrace home working even after the COVID-19 pandemic, with lockdown demonstrating the flexibility and effectiveness of tools like videoconferencing and collaboration software. Facebook has said that it expects half of employees to work remotely over the next five to 10 years. This could permanently reshape the design of both office buildings and private dwellings, with premium homes being those with space for home offices and of course, high-speed, reliable connectivity.
One of the biggest challenges people have been facing on a day to day basis during lockdown is how to keep themselves entertained. Streaming services have seen a huge increase in use, as their takeover from traditional programming gathers pace, with Netflix seeing a 16% increase in use during this period. More and more we are reliant on the internet for our entertainment via streaming services, online gaming, online literature and social media.
News updates and essential information
With many of us stopping physical newspaper deliveries over safety concerns, we are consuming more news from online sources than ever before. Online news allows consumers to receive updates instantly and the BBC have been running a live feed to keep people up to date with the government’s virus response. With the situation changing rapidly online news is a great way to keep on top of the latest information, improving safety.
The Covid-19 crisis has not only increased our dependence on connectivity in the short term, it has also crystallised growing trends in our internet use for the future. The acceleration of these trends has highlighted the importance of building with connectivity in mind. A strong internet infrastructure is essential for keeping everyone in society connected in times of crisis as well as creating innovation moving forward.
Internet provision at home
In single-occupancy dwellings, responsibility for the internet lies with the householder or the tenant. They deal with ISPs, choose their internet package, and contact their provider if any problems occur. However, in multi-occupancy buildings, it is often the responsibility of the building owner or developer to ensure that each individual property within the building can be connected to the internet.
Should the coronavirus pandemic increase home-based work and learning for the long-term – and, as we have outlined here, it seems likely that it well – then the pressure will be on such owners and developers to ensure an extremely slick and strategic approach to provisioning connectivity throughout. Approaches such a ‘dig once’ philosophy when provisioning full-fibre networks in new builds, and considering the interplays between high-speed connectivity in individual homes, and smart building services throughout the entire building, will become increasingly important.