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UK network users burn through unprecedented data in lockdown 3

Coinciding with the launch of Call of Duty: Warzone update, Virgin Media records its busiest day on record, with the average user downloading more than 20GB of data

Virgin Media’s recent announcement that it has conducted a trial of network acceleration technology that could pave the way to multi-gigabit broadband speeds looks timely, with the company just releasing research data showing the huge impact that sustained lockdown measures are having on the UK’s internet habits.

The study, which comes as the country approaches the first anniversary of the first lockdown, reveals that the nation’s appetite for data continues to grow, with customers using their broadband more intensively than ever.

Based on analysis of more than five million broadband customers, the study found that Virgin Media broadband customers across January and February revealed a marked shift in behaviour, with weekday afternoons becoming the busiest time of day for upstream traffic for the first time ever.

Download traffic on Virgin Media’s network reached new record levels on Thursday 25 February as gamers nationwide rushed to download the latest update of Call of Duty: Warzone, leading to the average user consuming a 20.77GB of data in just one 24-hour period – nearly 3.5GB more than the previous record-breaking daily average of 2020.

Download traffic increased during the third national lockdown. Throughout January and February, as schools were closed and temperatures plummeted, customers downloaded an extra 7.4GB of data per day compared with the same time last year before lockdown measures were put in place. That, said Virgin, was enough extra data to download all eight episodes of Bridgerton in HD each day and meant customers were now using 3.1GB more data each day than during the first lockdown peak.

The other key finding was that upstream traffic – generated through activities such as video conferencing, voice calls, sending emails and uploading documents – has increased during weekday afternoons more quickly than at any other time of day. The peak period for people sending data is now between 2pm and 4pm, a core period for many remote workers and home learners, which represents a shift away from the long-established pattern of evenings being the busiest time on the network.

During this new afternoon peak period, upstream traffic was revealed to have increased three-fold on pre-pandemic levels and was up 35% compared with the first lockdown, suggesting households across the country are now better set-up to embrace flexible working and home learning. With upload traffic growing rapidly while traditional voice calls – which saw an initial surge during the first lockdown before quickly returning to normal – remaining steady, Virgin said the data suggested households are embracing video calls to stay connected.

The new data follows analysis released by Virgin Media in December which showed that data usage on the operator’s network in 2020 was at its highest-ever level. Throughout the year, customers consumed a record-breaking amount of data, tuned into more TV, and spent longer on the phone.

Our network is carrying more data than ever as consumers continue to adapt and embrace new technology that helps them work, learn, socialise and stay entertained from home,” said Jeanie York, chief technology and information officer at Virgin Media. “We are committed to keeping up with demand and helping our customers stay connected at a time when our ultra-fast and reliable services have never been more important to millions of people’s lives.”

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