Lockdowns and Christmas cheer set record Openreach data traffic

(Image credit: Shutterstock / fizkes)

A record 62,000 petabytes (PB) of data was consumed by households connected to the Openreach broadband network during 2021, with working from home and bandwidth-hungry entertainment services driving significant growth.

The Openreach network is used by most major broadband operators in the UK, including Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone, and BT itself, and connects 17 million homes and businesses across the country.

With such a significant install base, the company’s annual broadband report offers significant insight into the behaviour of consumers during another year of lockdowns and pandemic restrictions.

Openreach broadband

The past 12 months saw a 20% increase in overall traffic, up from 50,000PB last year, and up from 22,000PB in 2019 – before the pandemic. The average property consumed 3,666GB of data during the year, equivalent to around 10GB everyday.

In terms of individual months, January (5,911PB) and March (1,588PB) were the busiest of the past year. Both periods coincided when a national lockdown was in place and most people were reliant on their connections for work, education, and communication.

December was the third busiest month, with the Omicron variant of Covid-19 meaning many people were staying at home, working, streaming films, or playing online games. Indeed, the single busiest day was Sunday 5 December with a record 222PB of data consumed, with the second busiest being 28 December when Amazon Prime was streaming live Premier League football.  

“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,” said Colin Lees, Openreach CTIO.

“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.

“We saw very noticeable peaks throughout February as the lockdown continued, temperatures dropped and the Six Nations international rugby tournament got underway in empty stadiums. In fact, three of our busiest days were across two weekends as Rounds One and Two of fixtures got underway and were available to watch online.

“But I’m pleased to say that our network stood up to the test. We have a team of tech experts working hard behind-the scenes to make sure there’s enough network capacity for every eventuality.”

With many of these pandemic trends likely to become long-term behaviours, Openreach and other infrastructure builders such as Virgin Media and CityFibre are investing in full fibre networks. So far, Openreach has reached a quarter of its overall target, connecting six million properties.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.