Huge rise in Wifi use as virus confines consumers to their homes

Ian Fogg Opensignal.jpg

Mobile operators are seeing their stay-at-home customers make a huge shift to Wifi because of the coronavirus crisis – but they’re still using more cellular data than before.

One of the biggest shifts to Wifi was in the Philippines, according to research from Opensignal published today. Last week, Filipinos spent 63.3% of their mobile time on Wifi, compared with 52.3% at the start of the year.

“There’s a perception that people are changing behaviour and everyone is hunkering down," said Ian Fogg (pictured), Opensignal’s vice president of analysis.

Spain, the worst hit European country at the time of writing, saw its total share of use for Wifi rising from 61.9% in January to 73.1% last week, said the survey, which measured users’ actions via an app on their smartphones. “We’re collecting data from millions of smartphones,” it read. 

It Italy the overall change has been more modest, from 51.2% to 59.2%, but Opensignal was able to track the spread of the virus as the country imposed restrictions over the past few weeks. “We found consumers changing behaviour ahead of government restrictions,” he said.

Hong Kong saw a spike in Wifi usage around Chinese New Year at the end of January, “as there usually is, but this year that went on”, said Fogg.  

“Elsewhere there’s been a change over the last couple of weeks, across Europe and North America, and a very dramatic jump in the Philippines.”

But the surprise was that “everyone’s using more of everything”, so usage of cellular networks is going up too. “Carriers are all saying data use is going up and carriers have lifted data restrictions. It’s a sign of the confidence by carriers that they can afford to provide more data,” Fogg said.

Opensignal does not measure data use in China, so has been unable to assess the impact of the world’s most severe restrictions on movement – and on the gradual relaxation of those restrictions over the past few days.

But the company’s research is showing that South Koreans are spending less time on Wifi, “likely reflecting reduced consumers’ concern, at least for now”.