Figures from Ofcom, the communications market regulator, show we began to spend more time on our phones due to the changes wrought on society by the coronavirus lockdown.


Ofcom analysed data culled from 200,000 Android mobile phone users between January and April this year. It found marked differences in how people used their phones before and during the initial lockdown period.

In the weeks before social and working restrictions began in late March, the average mobile call was around 3.40 minutes. But once lockdown began to bite, average durations stretched out to almost 5.30 minutes.

But that doesn’t mean everyone is now busy nattering on their phones all day. Ofcom says that, more generally, many people are actually not using their mobile for calls.

Its data shows that 22% of those surveyed did not make or receive a single call on their mobile network in the first 11 weeks of the year, with the introduction of restrictions making no difference to this aspect of their phone-use behaviour.

Ofcom says this can in part be explained by the rise in popularity of services such as WhatsApp and Zoom, whether for calls, instant messaging or group video calls.

City centres fall quiet

Another consequence of lockdown has been the locations when mobile phones are used, with activity in the centres of the UK’s capital cities falling dramatically at the start of lockdown, as people started work from home.

It can reasonably be inferred that other conurbations saw a similar pattern of declining activity in commercial districts as offices either closed or reduced the number of attendees/visitors.

Cardiff (-26%), Belfast, Edinburgh and London (all -33%) saw sharp drops in mobile activity, especially in more central areas, while suburban and rural areas saw an increase as people spent more time closer to home.

Ofcom findings from its Mobile Matters report:

  • two-thirds (65%) of the time, devices were connected to Wi-Fi rather than to a cellular network.
  • people were able to connect to a 4G network on 97.3% of the occasions when they attempted to do so.
  • there were no significant differences in failure rates for mobile connections between mobile network operators, but people on EE were the most likely to connect to a 4G rather than a 3G network, while people on Three were the least likely to connect to a 4G network.
  • analysis of performance in high-traffic areas shows that 3G and 4G connections were almost twice as likely to fail during peak times than at other times throughout the day.

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