Openreach takes the strain as broadband usage more than doubles in 2020

In what it says is a year like no other, BT broadband provision division reveals added infrastructure pressures from “new normal”

Unprecedented for sure and in terms of the added load on its network also unrelenting, 2020 saw Openreach break its daily record for broadband use as many as 15 times, with 50,000 petabytes (PBytes) of data being consumed across the country, compared with around 22,000 a year earlier.

According to traffic data released today by the broadband provision division of BT, for whom Openreach provides network services – as well as for BT, PlusNet, Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone and Zen – in the UK, the average property connected to Openreach’s fibre networks is using around 3,000 GBytes of data, or around 9 GBytes per day. This, said the company, was the equivalent of between two and three HD films being streamed in every house in the country every day, with Boxing Day becoming the busiest day ever for broadband usage when a record 210 PBytes was consumed across Openreach’s fibre networks.

The increases in remote working and video conferencing due to the coronavirus pandemic were attributed as drivers for the big jump in broadband usage, and during the first lockdown, beginning March 2020, Openreach said it very quickly saw about a 30% increase in daytime broadband use compared with pre-Covid times, mainly due to a huge increase in home-working and, particularly during the first lockdown, home schooling.

More traffic was generated by live sports being screened online by Amazon over the Christmas holiday period, as well as large updates to PlayStation and Xbox games console offers, including popular gaming titles such as Call of Duty.

The previous record-breaking day, 14 November, came when Amazon Prime Video screened two live Autumn Nations Cup rugby matches, with Openreach’s network traffic charts showing UK broadband usage surging just before the first of the two games approached kick-off.

Reflecting on the year, Openreach chief technology and information officer Colin Lees said that Covid-19 played a major part in the huge jump in data consumption, which he stressed had been dealt with by the firm’s infrastructure. “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,” said Lees.

“January and February saw data consumption at around 2,700 PBytes per month – before the pandemic brought about a big increase – with most months at more than 4,000 PBytes for the rest of the year.

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Lees added that despite the added traffic volumes and capacity, the company had coped well during the pandemic, with no major outages, thanks in part to a team of tech experts “working hard behind the scenes to make sure there’s enough network capacity for every eventuality”.

To support its expansion plans through 2021, Openreach announced a job creation programme in December 2020, which aims to create 2,500 new roles in its own organisation and about 2,800 with partners such as Kelly Group, Kier, MJ Quinn and Telent.

Of the positions, 2,552 will be in direct labour, and there will be 2,800 subcontractor roles, of which 1,600 are in service delivery, 700 chief engineering, and 500 in fibre network and delivery.

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