As coronavirus restrictions eased, Britons had more freedom in 2021 than they did during the preceding year. But many of us still stayed in and streamed HD sport and TV, pushing broadband traffic to new heights.
Openreach, the UK’s largest broadband network, handling traffic for BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone, and Zen, transferred 62,000 Petabytes (PB) of data in 2021. For context, it would take a single person 870,000 years to use 62,000 PB of data, even if they were downloading a dozen HD films each day, Openreach calculated.
Traffic on Openreach’s infrastructure was also up 24% from 2020 when the network handled 50,000 PB. Data use was also nearly three times more than the 22,000 PB sent over Openreach cables in the pre-pandemic days of 2019.
The busiest day for internet use in 2021 was Sunday, 5 December, when customers consumed a record 222 PB of data through Openreach’s network. Poor weather and mounting concern about the Omicron variant conspired to keep many people indoors and using the internet that day.
The second busiest day was 28 December, when four Premier League football matches were broadcast on Amazon Prime.
Sport was behind many data use peaks throughout 2021, with major spikes across two weekends in February during the Six Nations Rugby Championship. The matches were played to empty stadiums but were seen by a peak audience of 8.7 million viewers, many of them watching online.
Colin Lees, Openreach’s chief technology and information officer, attributed the heavy broadband use during 2021 to the winter lockdown that kept us indoors in the first months of the year and to the continuation of home working and evenings spent streaming and gaming rather than venturing out. "Most of us spent huge amounts of time at home,” he said.
But in addition to this "change in how we’re living our lives,” improved broadband infrastructure is also driving increased usage. “More people have access to faster speeds thanks to our fibre build, so can do more,” Lees said.
More than 92% of UK premises are now reached by Openreach’s superfast fibre optic network. Parent group BT is now pouring £15 billion into stringing gigabit-capable full-fibre across the country. This year. Openreach full-fibre reached 5.2 million addresses, on the way to connecting 25 million (80% coverage) by December 2026.
Openreach says its growing network “stood up to the test” in 2021.
"We have a team of tech experts working hard behind-the scenes to make sure there’s enough network capacity for every eventuality. They’re constantly preparing for things such as major retail events like Black Friday or the release of the latest big-ticket TV and film/sports streaming on services like Netflix and Amazon,” Lees said.
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