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How the Pandemic Stress-Tested the Increasingly Crowded Digital Home

by Coach Bee
  • The average U.S. household now has a total of 25 connected devices, across 14 different categories (up from 11 in 2019), including laptops, tablets and smartphones; video streaming devices and smart TVs; wireless headphones and earbuds; gaming consoles and smart home devices; and fitness trackers and connected exercise machines.
  • Thirty-one percent of Americans admit to feeling overwhelmed by the number of devices and subscriptions they need to manage.
  • Sixty-six percent of households have smart home devices; 39% of those smart home device owners paid for increased home internet speed.
  • More than 50% of U.S. adults had virtual doctor visits, and 82% of those who used virtual doctor visits claimed to be satisfied with the experience.
  • Fifty-eight percent of U.S. households have a smartwatch or fitness tracker, and 39% of consumers own one personally. Among device owners, 14% bought their smartwatch or fitness tracker since the start of the pandemic.
  • Seven-in-10 consumers who began smartphone-based retail behaviors, such as mobile ordering, during the pandemic intend to continue those behaviors.
  • Among respondents planning to switch mobile providers in the next year, the top reason is to access 5G service.

Why this matters
In March 2020, households became the center of daily American life — and connectivity took on newfound importance. With work, school, medical visits, fitness and retail shopping all crowding under one roof, rapidly shifting needs drove sudden demand for an evolving suite of connected devices and digital services. The second edition of “Deloitte’s Connectivity & Mobile Trends 2021 Survey,” an online survey of 2,009 U.S. consumers conducted in March 2021, saw households beginning to push the limits of connectivity. More consumers upgraded their home broadband, added Wi-Fi extenders, and expanded their mobile data plans. While connectivity providers and device makers quickly rallied to keep the nation connected and productive, many consumers were overwhelmed with managing a wide range of devices, services and communications suddenly necessary for life at home.

Homework takes on new meaning
Networks, services, devices and institutions rallied to effectively support the shift to working and schooling from home. Some had connectivity and technology issues but for many, human factors posed more of a challenge.

  • At the start of 2021, 55% of U.S. households included someone working from home and 43% had someone schooling from home. Top benefits of at-home behaviors were the ability to reduce the chances of getting COVID-19, closely followed by having no commute and being more comfortable.
  • Twenty-eight percent of home workers and 32% of home schoolers reported that they struggled to connect to the internet from certain locations in their home.
  • Workers at home cited the inability to meet face-to-face with colleagues or clients as a top challenge, followed by working longer hours than they would in-person, and being distracted by non-work activities. For home schoolers, the top challenge was getting distracted by non-school online activities, followed by not being able to meet face-to-face with teachers and classmates, and doing more schoolwork than if in-person.

A true test of connectivity
The survey also revealed that while connectivity held up remarkably well to the demands of unexpectedly crowded homes during the pandemic, many households had reached the limits of broadband, wireless and Wi-Fi networks. And with reduced movement outside the home during the pandemic, it’s not yet clear how well existing smartphones and mobile connectivity will serve post-pandemic behaviors.

  • Since the pandemic began, 19% of those with home internet had upgraded to a higher-speed home internet service and 8% switched providers.
  • Those who switched most often cited cost, followed closely by reliability, inadequate coverage throughout the home, and slow connectivity. 
  • Around 70% of consumers said their home Wi-Fi met their needs for range and speed, but more have tried to fix dropouts and dead spots by extending their home networks. During the pandemic, 30% of home internet users purchased Wi-Fi extenders, 19% bought mobile hotspots, and 14% added mesh Wi-Fi networks.
  • Close to 40% of households with mobile data plans made some change to their mobile data plan since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Upgrading to a new phone was the highest driver for this, followed by switching to an unlimited data plan and adding 5G.
  • Sixty-six percent of respondents noted they have had their smartphone for at least a year, while 31% noted they plan on upgrading within a year.
  • Among respondents planning to switch mobile providers in the next year, the largest reason is to get 5G service, followed closely by getting better value for the price.
  • Among those who do not yet have 5G mobile coverage, 54% say they intend to eventually buy a 5G-compatible smartphone and 52% will sign up for a 5G mobile data plan with their carrier, when 5G becomes available.

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