Covid-19 increased data usage

Fears over Broadband Demand During Lockdown Unfounded

Narrative Industries Thoughts

Contrary to some media reports, the COVID-19 lockdown has not caused the UK’s internet infrastructure to collapse.

In the UK, many people had already started working from home in the weeks leading up to 23rd March, when the UK was officially put into lockdown. At the time, media groups including The Sun and The Independent wrote a variety of stories claiming that broadband ISPs & mobile phone companies would not be able to cope with the predicted increase in demand of millions of people working from home & staying at home. Some jumped on the news that, on Friday 24th March, the London Internet Exchange (LINX) reported approximately 20% extra traffic, but at least some of that can be attributed to the launch of Disney+ (the kind of spike seen when any new, major game or service is announced) and the amount of traffic quickly went back to a relatively normal – but elevated – level.

ISP Review has gone through over 3 weeks’ worth of data from multiple sources and is able to confirm that UK networks were able to handle the additional lockdown traffic perfectly adequately, with very little impact on speeds.

There is more traffic, but it’s more of a “bit busy” than a cause for serious concern. This is partly because broadband providers already planned years ahead to meet the expected year-on-year increased demand, and their normal preparations have proved capable. In 2018 the average household transferred about 240GB (GigaBytes) of data but by 2019 this had increased 315GB, so the broadband providers were expecting an increase in 2020 and had been upgrading their infrastructure anyway.

According to a speed test report from performance testing company, Sam Knows, internet speeds have slowed, but only by about 2-3% and nothing to be unduly alarmed about.

Video streaming already makes-up the lion’s share of data transferred over the internet, and it was expected that the increased demand created by more people staying at home would lead to greater usage that would create speed & connection issues, but popular video streaming sites like Netflix, YouTube, Apple TV, Amazon and Disney+ mitigated the problem by slightly reducing the video quality of their streams. When combined with their use of CDNs (content delivery networks) – which cache copies of the same data in different geographical locations so users can stream from a nearby server, and the data has to travel less of a distance, through different and less busy parts of the global network – the impact of the increased traffic fell well-within manageable levels.

Openreach, who manage a large part of the UK’s broadband infrastructure, said there had been a 20% increase in daytime usage, in line with what they expected but not as high as the normal evening peak times and they had not seen any significant impact on their network.

Even the FT’s report that a “Rise in voice calls puts UK telecoms networks under strain” turned out be untrue. The dropped calls and quality issues were caused by an entirely unrelated, and purely coincidental, problem

So, overall, the UK’s internet infrastructure has proved to be perfectly capable of dealing with the demand of millions of people spending more time online.