Subscriber speed increases drive higher median broadband usage

Study shows continued surge in broadband data consumption, especially in upstream, leading to just over one-fifth of broadband subscribers being able to benefit from speed tier upgrade

After the year began with network users adapting to the new broadband environment by embracing faster speeds but with data usage moderating, the second quarter of 2021 has seen the migration to faster speed tiers driving higher levels of broadband usage, says the Q2 2021 OVBI study from OpenVault Broadband Insights.

The software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based revenue and network improvement solutions provider’s study revealed that in Q2 2021, two key metrics – the percentage of subscribers provisioned for gigabit broadband speeds and those provisioned for speeds of 100Mbps or less – moved sharply in opposite directions. The 10.5% of subscribers provisioned for 1Gbps or higher shown in the survey was more than double the 4.8% figure just a year earlier, while the percentage of subscribers provisioned for speeds of 100Mbps or less fell by half, from 39.9% in Q2 2020 to 20.1% in the equivalent period this year.

At the same time, year-on-year growth of median usage across both usage-based billing (UBB) and flat-rate billing (FRB) subscribers jumped by 22.7%, from 223.3GB in Q2 2020 to 274.0GB in the second quarter of this year. The rate of increase was more than 64% greater than the growth in average usage during the same period, indicating, said OpenVault, that increased consumption is occurring across the subscriber base as a whole, rather than being concentrated among a few customers. The analysis also suggested that almost 22% of subscribers would be well served by upgrading their speeds.

OpenVault’s analysis of Q2 2021 also revealed that monthly weighted average usage – including UBB and FRB subscribers – was 433.5GB, maintaining the trend of 14%-plus year-on-year growth evident in 1Q 2021, while exhibiting a quarter-to-quarter decline of 6% that is consistent with historic patterns. The percentage of subscribers using 500GB or more increased by 2.7%, from 28.2% in Q2 2020 to 31.9% in Q2 2021. Usage at the bottom end of the scale – 0-100GB – fell by 4.7 percentage points, from 34.2% to 29.5%.

With 10.5% of subscribers provisioned for 1Gbps service and 10.8% consuming 1TB or more of data, OVBI noted that Q2 2021 was the first time that both metrics had simultaneously topped 10%.

While power users – defined as those using more than 1TB of data a month – and extreme power users – using more than 2TB a month – grew by nearly 24% and 50%, respectively, from Q2 2020 to Q2 2021, the increase was moderated in systems that employ UBB plans. Extreme power users grew at a rate that was 31% less in UBB systems in Q2 2021, and FRB systems had more than 20% more extreme power users on their networks by the end of the quarter.

Assessing the dynamics and trends revealed in the research, OVBI said that with both median usage growth exceeding average usage growth and upstream usage growth exceeding downstream usage growth, the impact on the network is far-reaching and not driven by just a few subscribers or by applications such as streaming. However, the study also predicted that network operators would continue to be challenged to manage their infrastructures as they strive to balance higher usage with better customer experiences.

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