COVID-19 brings about very significant changes in the use of communications in 2020

The use of communications services in 2020 was affected by the large increase in data traffic, digital over-the-top (OTT) service penetration and parcel traffic resulting from the change in habits brought about by COVID-19. SMS and letter consumption followed 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 is set out in a report entitled “COVID-19: Impact on the use of communications services”, released today.

The analysis in this report covers a wide range of information about 2020 and provides an overview of effects and changes in communications service consumption in a year which was a turning point. With this report, ANACOM aims also to contribute to a better society-wide understanding of the adjustments and responses that emerged in the face of the pressure caused by the pandemic, a disruptive event unlike any other in the last 100 years.

In 2020, average fixed data traffic per access increased by 55%. It is estimated that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, such traffic registered an increase by 36.3% compared to the historical trend (even higher in the Q2 of the year with +40.2%). Had the pandemic not occurred, it is estimated that the growth would have been 19.3% compared to 2019.

Among the uses of electronic communications, the increase in the proportion of people who used the Internet to call or make video calls through OTT services stands out, rising from 52.5% in 2019 to 70.5% in 2020, a leap by 18 percentage points. Education communication through a website (30.8%), Internet TV (43.4%) and instant messaging (89.9%) were other OTT services featuring the highest growth.

In the case of parcel traffic there was a 20% increase in 2020, higher than that recorded in 2019 (+14.1%). The growth in parcel traffic is also likely to be associated with the population being under lockdown in their homes. Indeed, e-commerce experienced the largest increase in recent years, according to INE (the National Statistics Institute), a reflex of population lockdown and the shutdown of commercial establishments. In 2020, around 45% of people reported having used e-commerce in the 12 months prior to the interview, 5.8 p.p. more than in 2019 and the largest increase recorded so far. “Clothing and footwear” (60%), “home delivered meals” (38%) and “computers, tablets, mobile phones, additional computer equipment or accessories” (37%) were the main physical products ordered over the internet in 2020. The last two products grew the most compared to 2019 (+9 and +11 p.p., respectively).

COVID-19 also led to an increase in traditional voice communications. Mobile voice traffic according to accesses grew by 16.4% in 2020. It is estimated that due to the effect of COVID-19, this type of traffic increased by 11.9% compared to the historical trend (higher in Q2 2020 with +15.9%). Had the pandemic not occurred, it is estimated that the growth would have been 6.0% compared to 2019. Average fixed voice traffic per access increased by 7.0% in 2020. COVID-19 is estimated to have caused a 22.2% increase compared to the historical trend (higher in Q2 2020 with +30.4%). Had the pandemic not occurred, it is estimated that this traffic would have decreased by 12.2% compared to the previous year. It should be noted that fixed voice traffic had been falling since 2014.

On the other hand, changes in consumer behaviour resulting from COVID-19 emphasised the decrease in SMS traffic, which was already in decline due to the appearance of alternative means of communication.

The total number of accesses at a fixed location has apparently not been affected by the pandemic. However, in certain specific segments, the likely effects of exceptional and extraordinary measures have been identified. For example, in Q2 there was a slowdown in the downward trend of the number of subscribers of the pay-TV distribution service supported on satellite TV (DTH) and ADSL.

In the case of mobile accesses, the number of post-paid and hybrid mobile accesses registered a slight decrease in the first six weeks of the pandemic period. This decrease was more significant in the non-residential segment. Subsequently, non-residential mobile accesses also decreased during the month of August, although not as sharply. The number of mobile Internet users also registered a decrease in 2020, reversing the growth trend that had been observed in recent years. As a result of the pandemic, the number of mobile Internet users is estimated to have decreased by 4.2% in 2020.

Postal service traffic also decreased (-12.4% compared to the previous year). The pandemic is estimated to have had a negative effect by 9.8% on this traffic during 2020. Had the pandemic not occurred, it is estimated that total postal traffic would have dropped by 2.9%.

Consult the statistical report: