BT's broadband network traffic increased by 20% in 2021
- Figures confirm in detail what, anecdotally, was pretty obvious from Covid lockdowns
- The Openreach wholesale access network, the biggest in the country, is now connected to 17 million premises and growing
- Network stood up well to exceptional stresses and strains
- Increased competition from Virgin Media and others testing the incumbent’s mettle
There’s plenty of anecdotal, straw-poll, vox-pop-type evidence to support the belief that broadband usage in the UK went through the roof over the course of the miserable 12 months that made up 2021. Now though, Openreach, the quasi-autonomous wholesale and local access management division of BT, Britain’s incumbent telco, has produced a report based on empiric evidence to show that the scuttlebutt is correct -- there was a 20% increase in the volume of broadband data traffic last year as a direct result of lockdowns, working from home and the increased time (and money) spent on sports and movie streaming.
Openreach runs the UK’s biggest broadband network and is used by BT's retail operations and its many other wholesale customers, including the likes of Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone and Zen. The division’s annual broadband report includes data extrapolated from the broadband consumption statistics of the more than 17 million premises (and counting) that are connected to its fixed access broadband network.
In 2019, some 22,000 petabytes (PB) of data were consumed on the BT network. In 2020 that rose to 50,000PB. In 2021 that figure increased again to 62,000PB. A petabyte is the equivalent of 1,000 terabytes (or 1 million gigabytes). To put the size of a petabyte into some sort of perspective, Openreach says it would take an individual 870,000 years to consume, and that includes downloading 12 full-length high-definition films a day, every day for the best part of 1 million years.
Unsurprisingly, given the proliferation of Covid-19 at the beginning of last year, and the consequent lockdowns, the big increase in data consumption became apparent during the first quarter. However, usage was very high throughout the entire 12 months and the busiest single day ever (to date) on the network was just over a month ago, on Sunday, December 5, 2021, in the run up to Christmas and during cold, bad weather when 222PB of broadband data was slurped. The second-busiest day was on December 28, a public holiday, when a great deal of live sport was televised and 214PB of data ran over the Openreach network.
Commenting on the research, Openreach’s Chief Technology and Information Officer, Colin Lees, said: “We’ve had another bumper year where our network has played a critical role in keeping the UK’s homes and businesses connected. Data usage continues to increase, partly down to a change in how we’re living our lives, but also because more people have access to faster speeds thanks to our fibre build, so can do more.”
He added, “ “It was an incredibly busy start to the year as another national lockdown, this time during the winter months, meant that most of us spent huge amounts of time at home. People working from home during the day and spending their evenings streaming or gaming all added up to records once again being broken.”
Average broadband use now 10GB per household per day, every day
Another period of exceptionally heavy usage was February, 2021 when, as the lockdown continued, very cold and unsettled winter weather kicked-in and the popular Six Nations international rugby tournament matches were played to empty stadiums but broadcast to millions on TV.
Happily for all concerned, the BT network coped extremely well with the extra demand placed upon it throughout the year and Openreach continues to deploy fibre as quickly as it can in an environment where the likes of Virgin Media and other, smaller but fleet-of-foot and ambitious competitive fibre builders have lit a fire under the incumbent and shaken it out of years of smug procrastination and disgraceful foot-dragging over its deployment of super-fast broadband. The UK’s broadband sector is now very much alive and kicking and seems set to remain so.
Other revelations in the Openreach report include that households give their broadband connections the biggest hammering of the week on Saturdays and Sundays, with the peak being between the hours of nine and ten in the evening. No one seems sure why this should be the case, but it is. Meanwhile, last year the average property connected to the Openreach network used some 3,666 GB of data - that’s an average of about 10GB per day, every day.
The busiest months of 2021 were December (5800PB), January (5,911PB) and March (5,588PB) and during the “festive period”, the busiest days were December 27th and December 28th, when a total of 433PB was consumed. Usage was boosted by Christmas/New Year increases in family video calls and binge-watching streamed TV. Online gaming to continues to increase but not as quickly as it did in 2020. Perhaps the novelty is beginning to pall?
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