UK broadband usage doubled in 2020

Streaming services
(Image credit: Future)

UK broadband use more than doubled in 2020 as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic accelerated long-term trends of rising consumption.

Openreach says its network transmitted more than 50,000 petabytes (PB) over the past 12 months compared to the 22,000 PB generated in 2019. The daily record was broken 15 times over the past year and the average fibre household consumed 3,000 GB – or 9GB every single day.

Lockdown restrictions on movement and activity since March have meant many people are using their home connections for work, education, entertainment, and communication with friends and family that they are physically prevented from seeing.

UK broadband traffic

Video calls, streaming services, and video games downloads are cited as three specific causes of the surge and directly caused the daily record of 210PB on Boxing Day. The previous record was 14th November – the same day that Amazon Prime live streamed two international rugby matches on its platform.

“It’s been a year unlike any other and we believe that’s played a major part in this huge jump in data consumption,” said Colin Lees, Chief Technology and Information Officer, Openreach.

“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.”

The increased reliance on home broadband connections has placed additional scrutiny on the UK’s communications networks over the past year. Although infrastructure has largely remained resilient during unprecedented demand, there is additional clamour for full fibre technology to be deployed across the country.

Openreach has so far connected more than four million premises to full fibre and plans to reach 20 million by the end of the decade as part of a £12 billion investment programme. It has indicated it could go even further with the right level of support.

Ofcom and the government have made moves to sweeten the regulatory environment, however a pledge to connect every home by 2025 has been dropped and only £1.2 billion of public funding will be made available between now and 2024.

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.