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UK's EE sees 45% rise in chat app traffic amid COVID-19 lockdown

If any further evidence were needed to indicate that Zoom is going to be of the big winners of the COVID-19 health crisis, EE said usage of the video communications app has increased five times during lockdown compared to earlier in 2020.

In its mobile network data report from February to May 2020, the BT-owned mobile operator said total traffic for communications apps including Houseparty, WhatsApp, Skype and Teams increased 45% on the EE network.

Making a phone call also seems to have become more popular at this time. The report said voice calls lasting for more than five minutes on average have doubled, with overall voice usage increasing by 45%.

Traffic usage patterns are following changes in user behavior, as people are traveling less into city centers and exercising more outside as opposed to in gyms or sports centers. The Strava fitness app has seen both user count and data usage more than triple compared to pre-lockdown figures, while MapMyRun data usage has also doubled. Interestingly, Fitbit usage has fallen sharply, as the UK's overall movement throughout the day has decreased. Online supermarket orders also spiked in the early stages, although they are returning to more normal levels as restrictions are eased.

The UK went into lockdown somewhat later than many of its European neighbors, imposing strict measures from March 23, 2020. There has been some loosening of restrictions since mid-May.

As well as Fitbit, other apps that experienced a decline in use include navigation and travel apps and ride hailing apps such as Uber and Kapten. Although Deliveroo usage fell initially, clearly the trend for home cooking lost appeal quickly as Deliveroo orders reached an all-time high in April.

Marc Allera, CEO of BT's Consumer Division, which includes EE, pointed to the fact that the operator's network has been able to withstand these spikes in demand, noting that "the role of a highly reliable high speed mobile network has never been more important to our customers."

However, the mobile networks operated by EE, Telefónica-owned O2 and Three UK were all said to have suffered issues in mid-March 2020, with customers reportedly unable to connect voice calls and several other online services also running into difficulties.

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— Anne Morris, Contributing Editor, Light Reading

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