COVID-19 changes consumer habits and use of electronic communications

The COVID-19 pandemic changed habits of consumption and use of electronic communications services in 2020 and 2021, reflected in an increase in fixed data traffic, fixed voice, mobile voice, penetration of digital over-the-top (OTT) and parcel services. SMS and mail consumption maintained a sharper downward trend. These are the main conclusions resulting from ANACOM’s close monitoring of the sector in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which are set out in the report “COVID-19: Impacto na utilização dos serviços de comunicações” (COVID-19: Impact on the use of communications services.)

Some overall results are highlighted below, from 2020 and 2021, of COVID-19’s effect on electronic communications:

  • Average fixed data traffic per access increased by 55% in 2020 and 21.3% in 2021, reaching new historic records. It is estimated that in 2020 and 2021 the pandemic had an overall effect of +33% on average fixed data traffic per access. Year-on-year, the effect was +32.8% in 2020 and +32.6% in 2021.
  • In 2020, the pandemic caused a reversal of the downward trend in average fixed voice traffic, which grew by 7% compared to the previous year. In 2021, it decreased by 12.3%. It is estimated that in 2020 and 2021 the pandemic had an overall effect of +22.7% on average fixed voice traffic per access. The effect of the pandemic was +21.8% in 2020 and +23.9% in 2021.
  • Average mobile voice traffic per access increased by 16.5% in 2020 and 2.4% in 2021. The overall effect of COVID-19 on mobile voice traffic per access was +11.1% in 2020 and 2021. In 2020, the effect was +9% and +6.7% in 2021.
  • In the case of mobile data traffic, no particular effect of the pandemic could be determined. The average mobile Internet consumption per user was 4.6 GB in 2020 (+24% than in 2019) and 5.8 GB in 2021 (+25.2% than in 2020). The number of mobile internet users grew by 1.8% in 2020 and 8.8% in 2021. The growth during the pandemic period may have been influenced by promotional offers launched by providers and by the Digital School Programme.
  • The downward trend in SMS traffic worsened. In the 2nd quarter of 2020 and the 1st quarter of 2021, periods in which compulsory teleworking and distance learning were in force, average monthly SMS traffic reached the lowest values of the last decade.
  • The use of OTT services has increased significantly. It is worth noting the increase in the percentage of individuals who used the Internet to make phone or video calls in the last three months, which rose from 53% in 2019, to 71% in 2020 and 80% in 2021. Communicating with trainers or teachers, with other trainees or students through an educational website or platform (32%), attending online courses (24%) and using banking services - Internet banking (64%) - were other OTT services which recorded the greatest growth compared to the pre-COVID period.

COVID-19 also boosted teleworking resulting in an increase in the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) from home. In 2020, 33% of employed internet users worked from home, with 31% using ICT for this purpose. About 30% of users considered this to be the result of the pandemic. In 2021, among internet users pursuing a profession, 22% carried out their professional activity at home, 20% used ICT for this purpose and 18% worked from home due to COVID-19.

In the case of postal services, traffic decreased by 12% in 2020 and 2.9% in 2021. In the two pandemic years, COVID-19 is estimated to have had a negative impact of 8.5% on total postal traffic. In 2020, the pandemic effect was -8.8% and in 2021 it was -7%. Mail items decreased by 14.7% in 2020 and 5.1% in 2021. By contrast, the pandemic influenced e-commerce positively, with parcel services increasing by 19.5% in 2020 and 15.1% in 2021. In 2021, around 52% of individuals reported having used e-commerce in the last 12 months (+7 p.p. than in 2020 and + 13 p.p. than in 2019). The largest increase in the last decade was recorded in 2021.