COVID-driven broadband use may be leveling off

April 8, 2020
Recent Internet usage data from OpenVault and the NCTA both suggest that the surge in Internet usage driven by coronavirus quarantines and stay-at-home orders may be leveling ...

Recent Internet usage data from OpenVault and the NCTA both suggest that the surge in Internet usage driven by coronavirus quarantines and stay-at-home orders may be leveling off.

According to data from OpenVault, broadband consumption is showing indications of reaching a plateau in markets that have been "quarantined" because of the coronavirus.

Following three weeks of double-digit percentage growth, the total downstream data usage in those markets with shelter-at-home policies declined 5.80% during the week of March 30 - April 3 when compared to the previous week. While total upstream usage continued to grow during the March 30 - April 3 timeframe, the increase over the previous week was only 2.3%. Overall data usage growth in quarantined markets is 33.1%, when measured against OpenVault's January 2020 usage benchmarks.

Among the findings:

  • Average daily downstream consumption during the 9 a.m.-to-5 p.m. business hours in the last week was 6.35 GB, 42.46% higher than the January level of 4.46 GB.
  • Average daily business hour upstream usage rose 82.5% from January through April 3, from 0.215 GB to 0.392 GB.
  • While the highest data usage growth has occurred during the 9-to-5 business hours, operators have still experienced significant growth during the 6 p.m.-to-midnight peak hours. Peak hours downstream consumption was up 21.15% from January, while upstream usage rose 35.95%.
  • Overall, daily usage grew from 12.19 GB in January to 16.22 GB through April 3, indicating a new monthly run rate of more than 480 GB per subscriber during the current crisis.

In contrast to quarantined markets, areas that have not yet experienced restrictive policies have shown significantly less growth and may yet experience additional increases, according to OpenVault. Using the same January through April 3 timeframe, OpenVault data indicates that average daily data consumption in less impacted markets is up 38.2% during the 9-to-5 weekday hours, while peak hour usage has risen just 8.0% per day since January. OpenVault plans to offer deeper analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on broadband trends in the Q1 2020 OpenVault Broadband Industry (OVBI) report later this month.

"It's too early to say that the industry has weathered the storm of additional usage, but signs point to the greatest surge of growth by far as being behind us," said Mark Trudeau, CEO and founder of OpenVault. "Operators will need to keep close eyes on any incremental increases - particularly during peak hours and in the upstream - as well as the impact of new quarantines in additional markets, but their networks seem in the meantime to be well-prepared to handle this increased data consumption."

Data from the NCTA's COVID-19 Internet Dashboard (available at https://www.ncta.com/COVIDdashboard) also indicates that demand may be leveling off, though the NCTA says it wants to see at least another week's worth of data before drawing any firm conclusions. Among the NCTA's findings:

  • While overall national consumer downstream peak usage is up 19% overall since March 1, the last week has seen a slight decrease of -1%. This could indicate that consumer usage and demand is leveling off.
  • Overall national consumer upstream peak growth is still increasing - up 4% week over week - but at a lower level than last week's 7% growth rate. Since March 1, national upstream peak growth has seen a 33% increase. This could also indicate a leveling off in consumer demand and usage.        

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