How Well Did Communication Apps Perform During Lockdown?

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The way we communicate has changed dramatically over recent decades but the fastest and most unexpected change has been how we have communicated with each other during the recent months of the pandemic.

The unprecedented rise in video calling popularity has seen providers struggle with demand which has even led to some servers in UK colocation facilities being severely tested to their capabilities.

Whether we are staying in touch with family, catching up with friends, liaising with clients or hosting office meetings and even interviewing new recruits, video calling is now more popular than ever.

 A recent study has revealed how the major video calling software providers have coped since March of 2020.

Almost 30,000 reviews from the UK app store were analysed from January-July 2020 and compared with the same months of 2019. Reviews were covered for Zoom, Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams & Google Hangouts to provide us with an understanding of how they have performed during this period.

These reviews were used to provide an insight into the popularity of these apps and also public feedback, reflecting the attitude of users and the technical performance of the software.

Key Points

A strong correlation was apparent between higher usage and the implementation of stricter government guidelines. As travel restrictions were introduced, social distancing became the norm and a ban on household mixing was implemented, demand for video calling software increased.

With millions of new users, almost overnight, in-house servers were pushed to their limits. All of the providers in the study have their own on-site servers and it quickly became apparent that the use of external servers may now be the best way for these businesses to cope with demand.

Microsoft Teams fell in their review ratings to just 2.23 out of 5 in June of this year. This was their busiest period and user experience suffered dramatically. The public experienced technical issues due to struggling servers and frequent outages.

Zoom also had trouble in June this year. Their ratings dropped to 3.72- just as expected, they suffered from technical issues, leading to poor performance. However, they also fell victim to a security breach that was widely reported within the media, leading to negative PR.

Cisco Webex collaborated with over 24,000 schools in the UK to provide their software for remote learning, but a crash in June led to catastrophe for these distant learners and their teachers and left them with an average 3-star rating.

As restrictions were eased and the public was allowed to once again integrate with other households, demand for these services began to decrease. The start of July saw the re-opening of non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants and the British public were once again able to socialise face-to-face, albeit in restricted numbers.

At this stage, ratings began to improve, with less need for this software, servers were able to perform as they were meant to. This could also coincide with improved mental health as users begin to return to ‘normal’ and anxiety and stress levels reduced with the added benefit of being able to socialise with loved ones, it results in less angered and disgruntled users who may turn to reviews as an outlet for these emotions.

Which Provider Won Lockdown?

Despite all providers having their ups and downs during the lockdown period, there was a clear winner when it came to popularity.

Zoom saw the most users throughout these months with their review numbers increasing by a staggering 474%. However, due to their technical issues and negative press coverage, they did see their ratings drop significantly.

Zoom did not finish the study with the worst reviews, however. It was, in fact, Microsoft Teams which was revealed to have upset their users the most, with their rating ending at just 2.56 at the end of the study. They did however see a 15% rise in users during the pandemic.

Although not the most popular app, Google Hangouts has proven to have the most satisfied users. It was given a healthy average review rating of 4.21 at the end of July, the only app to have a rating above 4 at the time.

There is continuing uncertainty around COVID-19, especially as we head towards winter. Britain is witnessing frequent, localised lockdowns and the second national one may not be far away. The biggest struggle for most during these times is not being able to see loved ones and the use of video calling software is what is keeping households connected safely.

We ask, have these four providers learnt from the first half of the year and set in place safeguarding for demand increase should we be confined to our homes again? External servers are providing the means to cope with demand and switching to these is one way they can ensure a smooth user experience while keeping everyone connected during a strange and unpredictable time in our lives.