The Phone Call Strikes Back

  • Phone calls up 25% since UK’s lockdown began, with week one of lockdown seeing a 57% peak increase in calls carried across the O2 network
  • 18-24-year-olds have overcome anxiety over voice calls with 90% revealing they now make or receive more calls
  • A quarter of over-55s now considering buying a new internet-connected device
  • O2 continues efforts to keep nation connected with £1m donation to The Big Night In Appeal

Phone calls have made a comeback in the last month, on average up a quarter (25%) on the O2 network since lockdown started.

As lockdown sees the nation reaching for the comfort of voices to keep in touch, mobile network O2 has uncovered changes in both mobile habits and attitudes through a mixture of network data findings and consumer research*.

The network operator revealed that the increased voice traffic is down to two things:  more phone calls and longer average time per call.  O2 customers now make or receive 25% more calls a day, and the average length of calls is up 30% since lock-down kicked in.

Tuesday 24th March, the day lockdown was announced, saw the biggest surge in calls, with the nation making 45% more calls. On average, the calls were also 70% longer in duration.

This usage change has had a profound impact on feelings towards the humble phone call – particularly amongst 18-24-year-olds. Prior to the lockdown, this age group experienced phone call anxiety. Over a third (35%) said they felt anxious about making traditional phone calls, leading 22% to have not made a call for a month and 21% admitting to ignoring a call even when they knew who was ringing.

However, this has now all changed. Over a third (36%) of 18-24-year-olds reveal they have shed feelings of phone call anxiety, resulting in a whopping 90% now making or receiving more calls and almost one in three (31%) feeling more confident with the phone call experience. In fact, a quarter (25%) have called a friend for the first time in 2020 whilst on lockdown.

O2 customer, Ria Mitchell (24) a Veterinary Technician from Guildford, revealed that lockdown led her to rediscover the joys of the phone call, saying:

“I live on my own and the lockdown can feel lonely. I was raised in foster care so technically have two families that I’m trying to keep in touch with. I always used to visit them in person or otherwise just text, but now I’m always on the phone so we can stay in touch.

“I actually called my ‘real mum’ for the first time in two years just the other week to check that she was doing OK. We now chat more regularly and we are really rebuilding our relationship. It’s only been possible by chatting on the phone and we definitely won’t stop after lockdown. I also heard from my best childhood friend who I hadn’t spoken to for eight years. We’ve video chatted for hours and I found out she’s now a mum – we clearly had a lot to catch up on! I’ve definitely realised that picking up the phone and having a chat can be so rewarding!”

Over 55’s have also seen lockdown change their phone habits. In early March, 1 in 10 (11%) revealed they had never had a phone with internet connectivity. However, since the lockdown, 25% would now consider buying an internet connected device with 39% of these citing the need to stay better connected with friends and family as their motivation for doing so.

O2 customer, Evelyn Payne (87) from Taunton, Somerset got hold of her first ever internet-enabled device for lockdown, saying:

“When I heard the news that I would have to stay inside for at least 12 weeks and wouldn’t be able to see my family I was worried about how lonely I would be. I spoke to my grandson Marc and he suggested that I buy an iPad. I wasn’t sure about this as except for my phone and a very basic mobile phone for emergencies I am not used to technology, and I have never used or seen the internet!

“When I was first shown how to use it the iPad I was nervous that I would get it wrong, sometimes I do! My grandson added a picture of my late husband to help me find me way to the right place, so if I press the wrong button, I know I have to find my way back to him.

“Having the iPad means I am able to Facetime my family, which I have been doing every day and it really helps me not to feel so lonely. I was really excited when my grandson facetimed me and I could also see my daughter and Granddaughter at the same time! It was like we were all in the same room. We are a close family and it meant a lot to me that we could all be together at the same time.”

As a result, almost a quarter (24%) of over 55s now say they feel more confident using “smart” aspects of their phone – including video calling (63%), surfing the web (35%), and even the use of Tik Tok (10%).

Overall, the smartphone has become a true lifeline for many during lockdown with over half of all Brits (55%) saying it’s been essential for their social life.

Nina Bibby, CMO, O2 said: “Seeing the nation connecting more than ever is a powerful reminder of the ability mobile devices have to bring people closer to the people and things they love and it’s brilliant to see everyone, across the generations, discovering the full power their phones can give them.  We remain committed to doing everything we can to help our customers stay connected to their friends, families and loved ones during this challenging period.”

In recognition of the challenges that people are continuing to face, O2 is supporting its customers in a variety of ways, including unlimited voice minutes for consumer pay monthly customers and zero-rating access to the NHS website and an additional 22 sites offering financial guidance and advice, such as Citizens Advice and Mind. O2 is also committed to supporting the valuable work of the NHS, helping frontline staff on O2 stay connected by giving a free 10GB bundle of data each month so they can stay in touch worry free.

This follows O2’s recent work to install additional temporary network capacity at the ExCel centre in London and Harrogate Nightingale hospital, part of the mobile operators continuing work with NHS Trusts to assess mobile connectivity in current and proposed hospitals across the country. The O2 arena has been made available as an NHS training facility. Staff trained there will go on to work at the NHS Nightingale field hospital at ExCel London.

In its latest step, O2 is partnering with BBC’s The Big Night In, donating £1 million to help fund Children in Need and Comic Relief.

To find out more about O2’s commitments to help the nation stay connected, visit: https://www.o2.co.uk/covid-19

-ENDS-

Notes to Editors

*O2 commissioned Censuswide to survey a representative sample of 2,000 UK adults 6-10 March 2020 pre lockdown and 16-19 April 2020 during the lockdown.

O2 data statistics compare 1 – 29th February 2020 and 21st March 2020 – 21st April 2020.