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UK online traffic soars during year in lockdown

Research from leading UK ISP reveals online usage in the UK has increased by 78% year-on-year since the first lockdown

Research from leading UK ISP Zen Internet has revealed the extent of the huge surge in online traffic since the first lockdown in March 2020, as well as the reasons why a series of spikes has occurred, after a large proportion of British adults spent prolonged periods working from home, children gained access to connectivity for home-schooling requirements and demand in entertainment streaming services sky-rocketed.

In its study, Zen Internet surveyed trends in broadband usage between March 2020 and March 2021, and revealed internet usage in the UK increased by 78% year-on-year. The data revealed that households across the country accessed more bandwidth than ever over the past year thanks not only to the shift to remote working and entertainment, but also online shopping. As a result, daytime internet usage increased by 75% and the evening peak by 65%.

When lockdown was officially announced on 23 March 2020, there was a small reprieve where Brits put down their devices to watch the Prime Minister address the nation and officially announce severe restrictions across the country. The address alone resulted in the biggest drop in the UK’s average traffic consumption in the year (down 9%).

The explosive growth of gaming during the pandemic has also highlighted how many found a new outlet for much-needed connection in isolation. The Xbox launch on 10 October 2021 saw an 11% rise in traffic across the network.

During a month usually associated with social events and family gatherings, December 2020 proved extremely different during the pandemic. As a result, 16 December 2020 saw the biggest peak of 2020, 14% above normal, mostly due to traffic driven by live streaming of football on Amazon Prime and a Call of duty game update. Conversely, the key festive days, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, saw another dramatic drop in traffic, 22% and 14% respectively, in comparison with the proceeding weeks.

The traffic stats also revealed the phenomenon of entertainment escapism, as the lockdown measures enforced due to the Covid-19 pandemic bringing about a surge in TV watching and online film streaming across the nation.

More people than ever have turned to entertainment to provide light relief in the midst of Covid-19-dominated news, which saw traffic to BBC sites increase by as much as 220%. In addition, the surge in demand saw Netflix traffic increasing 136% in a year, compared with a 28% increase the year prior (2019 to 2020). Amazon also saw a 143% rise year-on-year.

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As the anniversary of the lockdown approached, Zen said it saw another spike on 11 March, with traffic reaching its highest point ever – 18% above previous peak.

“This time last year, as millions across the country were told to stay at home, demand for online connectivity simply sky-rocketed to unprecedented levels. More than ever before people became dependent on the broadband that connects them with the outside world and reliable connectivity became an essential commodity,” said Richard Tang, chairman and founder at Zen Internet, commenting on the traffic stats.

“Even as initial lockdowns eased last year, we didn’t witness a dramatic drop off in internet usage, as you may have expected. In fact, entertainment streaming services continue to drive record levels of traffic, but thanks to how we manage our network Zen was more than equipped to handle this, and more if it came to it,” he said.

“As we look towards brighter times post-pandemic, we expect this demand to remain, reinforcing the need for infrastructure investment and the continued roll-out of full fibre broadband. This will give the UK the connectivity it needs to support long-term economic prosperity.”

And as regards full fibre broadband roll-out in the UK, Zen CEO Paul Stobart welcomed UK regulator Ofcom’s new regulatory conditions for the fixed telecoms market over the next five years, a move that he said would increase competition and investment in the industry, aiding in particular deployment in rural areas.

“The 2020s is undoubtedly going to be the decade of full fibre. Ofcom’s decision to regulate the pricing for further roll outs in the UK, in line with previous guidelines, is something that we welcome,” he said.

“The benefits of full fibre are undeniable for the UK and make regulations such as this increasingly important for enabling and supporting the likes of Openreach to be able to invest in its infrastructure at pace. In particular, this will help connect the people that need it, especially those in rural areas that are at risk of being left behind. In order for the UK to truly ensure everyone has access to choice, value and quality when it comes to connectivity, the industry needs increased competition and investment.”

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