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Over a Third of UK Home Workers are Switching to Mobile Data

Friday, Feb 12th, 2021 (8:01 am) - Score 11,760
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A new YouGov survey of 4,328 British adults, which was commissioned by mobile operator O2, has found that 36% of Brits currently working from home (1,351 of the respondents) are regularly switching to mobile broadband (4G / 5G data) to stay online and 61% say it’s made the working experience better.

The aforementioned results are said to reflect those who are working from home and have “experienced issues with their broadband router,” which meant they ended up connecting to mobile data instead as a backup (an example of casual network resilience in modern domestic connectivity). Sadly, the survey doesn’t examine what kind of “issues” have caused this (e.g. slow ISP speeds, local network congestion, poor WiFi etc.) and thus it lacks some context.

The survey itself was conducted (between 22nd-24th January 2021) during the latest COVID-19 lockdown, which has naturally forced more people to both work and play from home at the same time. The results state that this has led to 47% of respondents experiencing increased stress due to connectivity issues in their homes since January, while 28% have also considered switching to mobile data for that all important business call.


Summary of Survey Results

— 45% of 18 to 24 year olds say they are more likely to use their mobile data for browsing social media.

— 44% of all O2’s data traffic went to streaming services, such as Disney+, in January.

— 67% who are working from home and have been using mobile data agreed that access to it will be an important factor when choosing where to live in the future, which rises to 76% for 18 to 34-year olds.

Emma Evans, O2’s Head of Network Experience, said:

“Covid-19 has demonstrated that reliable mobile connectivity is essential, helping families across the UK home-school their children, stay connected to loved ones, and keep businesses across the nation up and running.

It’s because of this that O2 is committed to its role in rebuilding Britain, and why we are investing more in our network in 2021 than ever before.

We are pleased that the use of mobile data is able to support families and households to get through this difficult, unprecedented time when connectivity is crucial for daily life.”

On the flip side various studies tend to show that O2 often trails EE and Vodafone for 4G based mobile broadband speed (here and here). Nevertheless, modern 4G (and if you’re lucky, 5G too) based mobile data networks are significantly faster and more capable than past generations. On top of that many of the major operators are now offering “unlimited data” style plans, which removes the worry of excess charges.

In short, this often means that mobile connectivity, while not perfect and still highly variable in performance terms between locations, can increasingly be used for internet tasks that would have ordinarily been more the preserve of fixed line services. Indeed many people will also find that they can get better speeds over 4G than a lot of FTTC lines, but experiences do vary.. by a lot.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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52 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Regorimabitbackward says:

    Interesting story Mark but I just wonder if your article may have just touched on the real reason why people are switching with mobile operators offering unlimited data style plans sometimes at prices way below that of the price fixed line broadband the savvy people may be just waking up to the fact they now might have an alternative option especially if ADSL is your only available option from a local isp and let’s not forget it is portable and in these present times money may be an issue for some people.

    1. Avatar photo Henri says:

      Yep I’m one of them.

      I use Three 5G with redemption cashback deals to get it just about £4.81/mo over a year and I get 600Mbps down and 40 up.

      No fixed line provider can beat that price.

      Obviously living across a mast isn’t something everyone has.

    2. Avatar photo JP says:

      @Henri – Will be interesting to see how long that 600mbps last if they are willing to give the service away at silly prices.

      That 40mbps upload sucks too, 50-100mbps over on Vodafone…. Just saying.

    3. Avatar photo mike says:

      Oh look a penis measuring contest has started

  2. Avatar photo Regorimabitbackward says:

    I would like to add that I recently renewed my o2 sim only deal and was offered 6 months half price Disney+ and I’m pretty sure that the offer is still on and that might explain the 44% of all o2,s data traffic.

    1. Avatar photo jrhop says:

      Yeah but I don’t get why people are watching Disney on their phones, why wouldn’t you watch it on your TV through broadband? Do people think you can only watch it on your phone when you get it through O2?

    2. Avatar photo nettech99 says:

      @jrhop – most likely kids watching on their tablets/phones in bedrooms etc.

    3. Avatar photo Lee says:

      @jrhop There is something called tethering, casting, and hotspoting.
      People can watch it on anything they like using their phones data connections, up to and including massive screen 4k tv’s.
      There is nothing the providers can do about it. Infact they encourage it in their sales pitches.

  3. Avatar photo sam says:

    I’m not surprised, The state of the domestic broadband network is a joke. far too much contention for starters. I get 100meg on 4G where as I am lucky to get 22 on “Fibre” which is not full Fibre.

    1. Avatar photo Kieron says:

      Yeah I find exactly the same. I can achieve 280mbps on mobile data.where only 50 MN fixed line I’ve found myself downloading games over mobile data

    2. Avatar photo Gary says:

      Sam, not for long you wont if more and more people do the same and switch to heavy 4G use in your area,

      Contention on 4G will be a much bigger issue than on fixed line. What is it that makes you think your low speeds on FTTC are contention ?

    3. Avatar photo Gary says:

      Kieron, I’m with EE as the fixed line option available here is 1M, I get 35 to 80 on 4G for less than the fixed line rental and BB it’s really a no brainer isnt it.

    4. Avatar photo Jon says:

      FTTC speeds have almost halved since the cabinet was installed, gave up and moved to 4G.

      Problem is if more people do this and capacity isn’t increased we’ll all be back to square one, 5G couldn’t come sooner.

    5. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      The complete lack of competition in the UK “wired” broadband market doesn’t help either.

  4. Avatar photo Graham Newsome says:

    How does zen measure up

  5. Avatar photo Spyder Lodge says:

    An unlimited data plan from three is great value when your only options is very slow FTTC or expensive Gigaclear. The Altnets need to get more realistic about their pricing, our local facebook group does a good job of promoting their special offers – 18 month deal at 57% off list price – does anybody pay the full price ?

  6. Avatar photo Michael V says:

    While I’m back temporarily with the parent, we have FTTC from Vodafone. But when working at the far end of the flat, WiFi signal is rather low & the extender randomly disconnects.
    I’ve been using my AI Cube on Three, placed next to me. I need fast upload speeds for what I do & it seemed to be more reliable.

    Mobile Broadband will only improve & more will see the benefits.

  7. Avatar photo Gary says:

    Considering a Smartphone and Data plan are pretty much a standard lifestyle choice Its not surprising the younger generation are using mobile data more, If you’re paying for that already and getting the speeds you need at home the justification for fixed line BB and the cost becomes less.
    That said without a permanent connection the ever increasing smart home and cloud tech becomes a bit troublesome, as soon as you go out with your phone.

    Unfortunately if people aren’t switching to their wifi/fixed line BB at home that increases the loading of 4G masts and as we’re already seeing in some areas the network/tech simply cant cope.

  8. Avatar photo Upload matters says:

    Where we live FTTC maxes out at 60mbit down and we have a whopping 9mbits upload, it’s regularly broken too and god help you if there’s an actual problem on the link. Getting someone at the ISP who knows what to look for and isn’t just reading a script is hard. then getting an openreach engineer out is even harder. We were offline for a week last year before I splashed out on a Huawei 4G router.

    But with three I’m able to get anywhere from 80-120mbit down and usually 30-50 mbit up. And my sim chip costs less than half what my FTTC costs. I’m going to be ditching the openreach link as soon as the contract is up and I may even consider a second different 4G network as a backup. When we get 5G I imagine many people will notice they’re getting faster speed for less money and despite what the ISPs think upload is actually important.

    1. Avatar photo JP says:

      We do need to remember that 4/5G isn’t something we can be relying on long term, the capacities on these networks is already being stretched.

      I’m currently testing 5G and not overall hyped about it right now, it’s just extra 4G spectrum with a 5G logo in my opinion,

      But testing my is on going and I’ve another couple of networks to test yet.

    2. Avatar photo Jones Arthur says:

      Your safe been with 3 mobile broadband for 24 months used well over 45tb my tplink router saving me thousands of pounds joining virgin or bt

  9. Avatar photo JP says:

    On first impressions of this article, ‘It doesn’t surprise me’ with many people relying on upstream speeds that many providers just don’t have or cannot be attained on current ‘fixed’ infrastructure.

    Many simply are struggling to keep online ‘together’ (kids homeschooling and trying to hold teams conference)specially on services where upstream is below 10Mbps,

    Worse still is the widespread capacity issues on local networks from certain providers where neighborhoods are simply to easily becoming congested due to the high ratios of customers sharing shoestring bandwidth allocations.

    1. Avatar photo Kim Kardashian says:

      I think it’s time to ban the kids from the internet and solve the whole issue. No to mention correcting the societal collapse that is directly related to digital consumption by children with no capacity to decipher the BS they are fed from the super woke pretend ‘celebrities’.

      Ban the kids and save the bandwidth for the responsible adults who pay for it.

    2. Avatar photo JP says:

      Stay Offline, Protect the Internet, Save Meagbits

    3. Avatar photo Kim Kardashian says:


  10. Avatar photo Julian Vallis says:

    BT Business offered an amazing deal for Black Friday: 80/20 FTTC and an unlimited 5G SIM for £39.95 (£26.95 for the FTTC and just £13 for the SIM). So I switched 2 sites onto that deal, and ordered a further 3 SIMs for the employees, and using 2 SIMs in a Huawei 5G CPE Win I snapped up at each site. Total monthly is £92.90 for 2 FTTC lines and 5 SIMs.

    So now FTTC is a backup line to 5G, and for the next two years I’m using 5G until FTTP arrives. No brainer to use it if you can find a good deal.

  11. Avatar photo mary joan says:

    I wish these peoples bloody use broadband at home not mobile data as it does affect al of us poor slow on mobile network in this lockdown. Stop abused mobile network on streaming too much (use your own wifi broadband for god’s sake)

    1. Avatar photo JP says:

      People are resorting to mobile usage due to poor performance of fixed broadband services…. Virgin Media customers subscribing to broadband speeds as high as 500Mbps only receiving a 1mbps in some cases.

      It might have missed you but mobile networks are selling there services for home broadband usage also.

    2. Avatar photo Jones Arthur says:

      Stop companies have plenty money to start increasing data bandwidth they are all cutting cost we are in the year 2021 not 2010 I know many people on virgin unlimited sim only taking upto 5tb each month without issues…

      My currently usage has been Oct 2020 3.4tb Nov 2020 4.3tb Dec 2020 1.9tb Jan 2021 6.4tb that with 3 mobile 5G network paying 15 pounds a month

  12. Avatar photo Dan says:

    Sky provide me with 39mb/s, my router reports my line can support 51mb/s but sky are reluctant to upgrade me to the faster package, I assume because it will bring down their averages they have to list in their advertising these days.

    I don’t work from home but if I need do do any heavy downloading on one of my rare days off I’m connecting my pc to my phone’s hotspot. Can sometimes get 100Mb/s if I put my phone on the windowsill.

  13. Avatar photo PineapplePete says:

    A couple of years back, acquired my mum a half decent 100 quid mobile WiFi router and a Virgin unlimited SIM since she’s on the end of an aluminium last mile. 10Mbps is her lot on FTTC. 60/40 over 4G and she’s on the cusp of serviceability in rural Highlands. Few splutters here and there when I dialed into work whenever up, but on the whole, completely adequate for the majority for 25 a month.

  14. Avatar photo Mark says:

    No choice here, slow FTTC, mobile signal poor, 2G only, the mast 3 miles never upgraded to 4G, locals don’t want masts so were still stuck in the 20th century.

  15. Avatar photo Mart says:

    I would say poor home WiFi is down to old bt outside cables running thru loose connection boxes and cheep extension cables running to a cheep router on the floor behind the telly. Seen it many times. It is no wonder it don’t work like.

    1. Avatar photo Neil says:

      a lot of the issues i’ve discovered are not down to the ISP, but WiFi within the house…. like you said router behind TV, too near interfering equipment, too far away, solid walls & congestion…. 5ghz is not good for range either.
      not everyone has a laptop/computer to directly connect to their router to eliminate the speed to the house not being the issue.

  16. Avatar photo Karl says:

    I’ve just started to consider that a 4G router is the way to go. I’ve virtually stopped using the home WiFi as it is so unreliable – which is not surprising as there are six of us in the house and the landlady has a cheap router on the floor ‍♂️I just use 4G and never have a problem, but I’m fed up with watching stuff on my phone and I have a not so smart tv using a Firestick.

  17. Avatar photo 5g_awesome says:


    Virgin media : 350/10. £39 a month
    Three mobile : 310/80. £6 a month (cashback deal)
    EE mobile: 140/60. £27 a month

    These are all business connections, but this is the inc VAT amount.
    Cost of opening a company: £10.

    1. Avatar photo Adam Bennett says:

      Can you explain more about how to get that Three cashback deal? Would love to know more.

  18. Avatar photo Nathan cross says:

    Plenty people cancelled virgin and bt and started using 3,o2 and virgin mobile, voxi and Vodafone unlimited data sim only packages my 3 speeds getting slower eachday with packages starting at 10 pounds for unlimited data with 5G with 3 network the network starting to struggle…..

  19. Avatar photo Adam Bennett says:

    Openreach need to get their act together, because we’re a matter of years away from them being obsolete at this rate of mobile data improvement. They’re still providing internet service suitable for a decade ago. Get with the times and invest, or die.

    1. Avatar photo Neil says:

      they completed FTTP (to the pole) in my street about 6 months ago, there has been little take up due to it being a predominantly virgin area and people still stuck in their 18 month contracts hence why i said pole not property.
      openreach did say they don’t have rights to all towns & cities due to those like Vodafone having the rights to fibre city areas.

  20. Avatar photo Julian says:

    Went for an 18 month 100 Gb data plus unlimited calls and texts contract deal from O2 in their recent sale at a nominal £20 per month but first 6 months of 18 at £10 a month plus alleged Quidco Cashback of £40. Quidco Only tracked at £36 so complained to Quidco (it was a flat rate cashback so they surely can’t say the percentage doesn’t include VAT at 20%) who have now increased it to £50. So 18 months of 100Gb mobile data and calls for an effective £13.88 per month if £50 cashback paid, pnly £3.88 per month more than previous GiffGaff 10Gb £10 per month Golden Goodybag.

    But now finding data speeds in the day time as low as 2Mbps to 3Mbps when lots of walkers and home workers using service, even though in mid to late evening can get up to 12Mbps down and up to 20Mbps Up.

    Also snags of what if I leave my mobile somewhere and of having to put my mobile in one particular window to get best data speeds for portable wifi hotspot now occurring to me. Think I have 28 days to cancel.

    But costs of FTTP I have available to connect to at home are ridiculously expensive being amounts like £27 per month in Year 1 increasing to £40 per month in Year 2 with Sky for a 75Mbps connection. And a ridiculous 2 year minimum contract with BT FTTP with massive penalties for early termination.

    But if you are in the countryside like me do be careful about the day time data speed you can get with mobile data as I only have acceptable signal with O2 and in the day time their data speeds dip down massively when their network is over taxed by home workers.

    It is however a huge comment on Openreach’s stupid unlimited data only FTTP pricing model that is clearly only geared to families of two adults and two teenagers or working age young adults that almost no single person household or couple is connecting to their FTTP service due to the excessive and greedy prices. This year I got Now Broadband ADSL2+ (Brilliant Broadband) at £18 per month with £100 cashback from Quidco (now paid after a complaint and the fault was with Now/Sky and not Quidco where it tracked straight away) for 16Mbps ADSL2+ and Unlimited Calls (so effective net £10.08 per month with unlimited calls to landlines and mobiles) but no deal like that available now and most ADSL2+ providers are now jacking prices to FTTC levels in Year 2.

    But Openreach needs to totally reprice to also provide cheaper limited data capacity FTTP plans (eg 100Gb limit usually more than enoug) to single people at much more reasonable prices or no one will connect to their expensive fibre optic cables and the mobile data networks will also become completely overloaded and therefore largely useless……..

    BT really need to get away from their idea that FTTP is a ripoff premium priced service that they can extract excessive profits from those living one new housing estates from now they are installing FTTP much more widely. Also who are these new heavy users of mobile broadband? I bet a lot live on new housing estates where BT’s monopoly FTTP fixed line broadband offering is severely and ridiculously over priced…………………

    1. Avatar photo Julian says:

      Just run a speed test now and this is probably typical of the problem so results are 3.7Mbps Download but 14Mbps Upload. That Download speed will only go up to 14Mbps or so later this evening. 8Mbps or more adequate for watching BBC Iplayer HD programs etc but 3.7Mbps isn’t. But on ADSL2+ I only get 1Mbps for uploads but I don’t need to do much uploading and it seems to still work at that speed for a Zoom call.

      O2’s transmitter is only 0.5 miles to the north but is a small several years old rural 4G rural cell in the railway station’s former goods yard without a lot of capacity and who knows when O2 will upgrade it to 4G+. But when I am near 4G+ masts in Harefield and Datchet I can get speed test results on a Download of around 100Mbps using the same OnePlus 5T phone………

  21. Avatar photo Julian says:

    Tried again and got 6Mbps Down and 12Mbps Up this time.

    Obviously I should be able to get a Quad Play bundle from somebody with FTTP broadband connection and some kind of tv watching at a sane price. But fact is that having that and say 10Gb of data on the mobile when away from home for very basic channels is going to be at least £37 a month (and that’s only Sky’s Year 1 price for Signature Tv and 75Mbps) versus less than £14 for the mobile only data solution.

    What I have no idea about is Telefonica O2’s plans to upgrade all their smaller masts to 4G+ in the South East. They do seem to be gradually edging out from Greater London slowly as I picked up a 4G+ mast only 4 miles away from me on the top of Leith Hill only a few days ago for the first time ever.

    But 5G is years away out here in the Surrey Sticks or at least it is anywhere outside the town centres………..

  22. Avatar photo Julian says:

    Should have added I am doing all these tests on the O2 network with my GiffGaff SIM.

    Perhaps I I put my new O2 SIM in my One Plus 5T my Download speeds will suddenly be as fast as the GiffGaff uploads?……………..

    1. Avatar photo Adam Bennett says:

      Have you tried forcing your 4G router to only use bands 1/3/7? Often it’ll fall back to band 20 as that has a stronger signal, but band 20 will often be quite congested, hence you end up with worse speeds.

      You might get better data rates if you force your device to a lower band.

  23. Avatar photo Claire smith says:

    Mobile data getting abused cheap prices leads to massive signups unlimited data for 10 pounds for six months who wouldn’t a 4G router on amazon is 50 pounds that saving you 30 pounds a month on virgin..

    1. Avatar photo Julian says:

      Strangely I can’t reply to Adam Bennett but anyway I don’t have a 4G router but only a 4G mobile that I am using the portable wifi hotspot on.

      As I am the only internet or mobile user living in my single person household it ought to be possible to use it for all my phone calls and internet use unless of course I can’t rely on adequate 4G data speeds.

  24. Avatar photo Kyle says:

    Not just performance but also the cost, with a financial apocalypse on the way (already here for some) I expect more to flood the cheaper networks.

  25. Avatar photo Beancounter says:

    its 5 times the cost of fixed to mobile so these companies offering it so cheap can’t sustain it…

    1. Avatar photo Julian says:

      In view of much cheaper mobile data offerings I don’t think Openreach can possibly sustain its current extortionate FTTP charges either or its ridulous umlimited data only policy that leads to FTTP charges being far too high for single people and only competitively priced for family units with at least four active internet users……………

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