O2 reports rise in voice calls during lockdown

(Image credit: pxhere.com)

Social distancing measures and lockdown restrictions have revived the traditional phone call, according to new figures from O2, which says voice conversations are more frequent and longer in duration on its network.

Whereas making calls on the move was once considered the raison d'être of the mobile phone when it first arrived in the 1980s, priorities of mobile users have shifted significantly since the first iPhone and first Android devices launched a decade ago.

The popularity of over the top (OTT) applications like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, coupled with the preference of younger demographics to use instant messaging, has led to a recent downward trend in terms of voice traffic.

UK voice calls

Just 75 per cent of smartphone users consider using a mobile phone for phone calls as ‘important’, compared to 92 per cent who consider web browsing to be important.

Ofcom figures showed the number of voice calls being made on a mobile phone fell for the last time, squeezing traditional mobile revenues.

However O2 is reporting a 25 per cent increase in the volume of phone calls and a 30 per cent increase in duration. On March 24, the first day that lockdown measures were announced, call volumes rose by 45 per cent and people spent 70 per cent longer on the phone.

The reason behind the change is fairly obvious – with Brits unable to see friends and family, they’re picking up the phone. And this could have an impact on longer-term behaviour among younger people.

A third of those aged between 18 and 25 said they had previously suffered from phone call anxiety with a fifth not making calls for a month-long period or ignoring a call – even if they knew the identity of the person contacting them. Nine in ten are now more confident making and receiving calls than they were prior to lockdown and 25 per cent have called a friend for the first time during lockdown.

Restrictions are also changing the habits of older phone users. A quarter of over-55s say they are considering buying a new or their first smartphone due to the pandemic, such is the desire to keep in content.

“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,” said Nina Bibby, O2 CMO. 

“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.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.