UK broadband usage doubles in 2020 – driven by live sport, gaming and home working

Data released today by Openreach – the UK’s largest broadband network, used by customers of BT, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone and Zen – shows that broadband usage more than doubled in 2020 with 50,000 Petabytes (PB) of data being consumed across the country, compared to around 22,000 in 2019.

During 2020, the daily record for broadband use has also been broken 15 times, and the average property connected to Openreach’s fibre networks used around 3,000 Gigabytes (GB) of data, or around 9GB per day. That’s the equivalent of between two and three HD movies being streamed in every house in the country, every day.

Network Infrastructure

Reasons thought to be driving the big jump in broadband usage include an increase in home working and video conferencing due to the Coronavirus pandemic, more live sports being screened online by the likes of Amazon Prime Video, and large updates to Playstation and Xbox games consoles, including popular gaming titles such as Call of Duty.

The busiest day for the UK’s broadband was Boxing Day, Saturday 26th December 2020, when a record 210 Petabytes (PB) was consumed across Openreach’s fibre networks.

On that day, a mix of video calls to get in touch with family and friends (during heightened Coronavirus restrictions) as well as TV streaming and gaming downloads were all contributing factors.

The previous record breaking day, Saturday 14th November, came when Amazon Prime Video screened two live Autumn Nations Cup rugby matches, with Openreach’s network traffic charts showing UK broadband usage surged just before 1pm as the first of the two games approached kick-off.

Reflecting on a record-breaking 2020, Colin Lees, Chief Technology and Information Officer, Openreach said: “It’s been a year unlike any other and we believe that’s played a major part in this huge jump in data consumption. We know more businesses asked their employees to work from home throughout most of 2020, so connecting remotely has been and continues to be important for everyone.

“January and February saw data consumption at around 2,700PB per month – before the pandemic brought about a big increase – with most months at more than 4,000PB – for the rest of the year.

“In terms of capacity, our network has coped well during the pandemic. We have a team of tech experts working hard behind-the scenes to make sure there’s enough network capacity for every eventuality. They’re constantly preparing for things such as major retail events like Black Friday or the release of the latest big ticket TV and film titles on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.”

Openreach is on a mission, with the right investment conditions, to upgrade the nation’s biggest broadband network through its £12 billion Full Fibre programme. With building work continuing throughout 2020, more than four million homes and businesses can now order a ‘Full Fibre’ service – which is more reliable, faster and future-proof. Customers can check if the network build has reached their area yet or what the latest plans are for their postcode at openreach.co.uk. Those who are able to order a Full Fibre service will need to contact their service provider to request an upgrade.

To support the build and improving service levels, Openreach announced more than 5,000 new engineering roles last month, including more than 2,500 full-time jobs in its service and network build divisions, as well as an estimated 2,800 positions with partners.

Key findings for 2020 broadband use across the Openreach network:

The busiest day was Saturday 26 December 2020 when a record 210PB was consumed across Openreach’s network.
The 2nd and 3rd busiest days were Monday 14 November (209PB) and Saturday 15 August (195.9PB) 2020.
The average property connected to the Openreach network used around 3,000GB of data in 2020, or around 9GB per day. To put this into perspective, it’s the same as between two and three HD movies being streamed in every house in the country, every day.
The busiest months in 2020 were December (4722PB[3]), August (4,894PB) and October (4,850PB.)
During the Christmas and New Year period:
Boxing Day was the busiest day with a total of 210PB being consumed.

Video calls during the heightened Coronavirus restrictions, as well as TV streaming (Netflix and live sport) and gaming console downloads were the contributing factors.

This year, network usage on Christmas day was nearly double that of last year:
Christmas day 2019 = 96PB
Christmas day 2020 =181PB

During the first lockdown (March 2020), we very quickly saw about a 30 per cent increase in daytime broadband use compared to pre-Coronavirus times, mainly due to a huge increase in home-working and, particularly during the first lockdown, home-schooling.

Online gaming continues to have a big impact on the UK’s broadband consumption, with many of the major data spikes focussed around updates to popular PlayStation, PC and Xbox games – including Call of Duty and Fortnite .

The busiest day on the Openreach network tends to be a Saturday or a Sunday – as it was pre-Coronavirus. The busiest time of day on the network tends to be between 7pm and 10pm.

Openreach’s network has continued to cope with the demands placed upon it, with no major outages throughout 2020.