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COVID-19 – Snapshot of Internet Traffic from EE and Virgin Media

Friday, March 27th, 2020 (4:15 pm) - Score 61,171

Broadband and mobile providers EE (BT) and Virgin Media UK have today posted some interesting snapshots to help illustrate how the current spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is impacting the way their customers make use of internet connectivity, which among other things show a big surge during the Prime Minister’s daily briefings.

We’ll start off with UK ISP Virgin Media because they haven’t provided much solid data, only a few percentages that lack good context. Apparently Traffic grew significantly on Monday, the first day of school closures, and this trend continued into Tuesday and beyond but is now “beginning to level out” as a “new normal” emerges.

According to the broadband giant, Daytime downstream traffic surged after the schools closed and has now “more than doubled” when compared to pre-crisis levels, albeit still below the levels experienced in the evening peak (this would normally be when everybody comes home from work and school). Demand during the current evening peak remains broadly in line with traffic levels typically seen before the emergency period.

Meanwhile their upstream traffic volume was over 1Tbps (Terabits per second) during the peak.

Key Details from Virgin Media

* Upstream traffic has increased significantly during daytime hours and is up more than 150% on the previous month (mostly due to people working from home, video calling etc.).

* Upstream traffic during the evening peak has increased by 50% over the past month for similar reasons.

* On Mothering Sunday, Virgin Media saw a spike in upload traffic as many families held video calls with loved ones rather than visit them in person.

* During Boris Johnson’s speech on Monday night, Virgin Media saw a sharp drop in downstream traffic as millions of customers watched the Prime Minister speak live on linear television. This was immediately followed by a surge in SMS traffic with 50% more messages being sent than usual.

* There was a sharp fall in downstream traffic at 8pm on Thursday night as people stopped watching online video services to applaud NHS workers. This was soon followed by a sharp rise in upstream traffic when people shared videos with friends and family on social media, leading to an “all-time record amount of upstream traffic” on VM’s network.

Despite increased demand for its services, Virgin Media said their network has “ample capacity and is continuing to provide customers with the ultrafast and reliable services they expect at this critical time.”

Meanwhile the situation for EE’s mobile network is a bit different, with the operator reporting that a huge volume of people were using mobile data to tune into the Prime Minister’s daily 5pm briefings (up to 2.5 times the amount of traffic on BBC iPlayer as seen on a typical day).


Similarly when Boris Johnson set the most stringent rules to date at 8.30pm on Monday 23rd March 2020, data traffic on EE’s mobile network increased by more than 5 times, compared to just one hour before.


With more people staying at home, the way we exercise, stay in touch and keep ourselves entertained has also shifted – and mobile data usage reflects that. Closures of gyms and leisure centres mean outdoor exercise is on the up. Data on the Garmin app shows notable spikes compared to a typical week, as more people opt to run and cycle to stay fit.

On top of that, as people are travelling so much less, there has also been a real drop in usage of the apps that are usually popular when people are out and about, including Google Maps, Uber and Lyft.


Meanwhile TikTok the micro video streaming service has become the big growth story of the change in the way people are staying entertained indoors, with users consuming 20% more traffic each compared to the week before.


The millions of people who use WhatsApp are using the software more than ever to stay in touch during social distancing. The busiest peak on the app saw data usage per user double in comparison to a typical week on the EE mobile network.



All of these peaks remain well within the capacity of EE’s network.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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27 Responses
  1. André says:

    More data supporting the need to focus more on upstream speeds rather than downstream.
    Virgin’s upstream offerings is pathetic and then having the gall to crow about “ample network capacity” just exposes them for the liars they are.

    1. CarlT says:

      That makes absolutely no sense at all?

    2. André says:

      Uhm, try reading it slowly?

    3. A_Builder says:

      I have to agree with the general sense of what Andree is saying. It shines a light on the real world of home workings upstream needs are.

      Upstream and latency are the new battle ground between VM and FTTP providers.

      If everyone can go 1G down – apologies to those on ADSL etc – then the other differentiating factors will be the sales pitch.

    4. Mark says:

      DOCSIS3.0 only has finite upstream capacity the same goes for DOCSIS3.1 in the gig1 regions, upstream does not really improve until DOCSIS4.0 that is symmetrical but is getting to be obsolete by FTTH

    5. Archie says:

      I wouldn’t say 40 meg was a pathetic upload speed…

      Virgin’s 10:1 for download/upload is impressive considering Openreach provider’s current offerings.

      5 megabytes a second is really good! What are you doing that requires tonnes more upstream bandwidth? The codecs on offer now are brilliant at providing live HD quality for FaceTime (for example).

    6. CarlT says:

      I’ll try again. It makes no sense at all. What do Virgin Media’s upstream speeds have to do with this and how is having ample capacity exposing them as liars?

      You purchase a product from them they give you the upstream speed. I’m not sure how they are lying.

      That you think this data indicates a greater need to offer higher upstream peak speeds just goes to show you haven’t any idea what you’re talking about.

      The higher consumption is from many more users consuming moderate amounts of capacity due to working and studying from home not a few people pinning their upstream streaming in 4k to Twitch or seeding torrents, those guys were doing so anyway.

      They are okay capacity wise. Unless they had artificially started throttling the upstream then put this release out I don’t get the problem?

      With that in mind your rant makes absolutely no sense but a nice attempt to use the current state of things to make an irrelevant point.

    7. CarlT says:

      Not really, A_Builder. Those needs are relatively low per customer and indicate a need for plenty of customers to be able to use a moderate amount of capacity simultaneously.

      Even with all the working and studying from home the people on Twitch, etc, over the evenings dominate the bandwidth chart with an the extra video calls adding just 50%.

      Really no need at all to offer higher upstream peak speeds just now. If people don’t like them they don’t buy Virgin. Going much past 100 on VM gets difficult.

    8. Laurence "GreenReaper" Parry says:

      Very few residential providers are going to give you anything close to symmetric, even those which could, because they don’t want people running filesharing hubs and do want to preserve that lucrative leased line revenue.

      Ultimately Virgin can do more for me upload-wise than BT, even at their lowest level – unless I want to shell out for them to lay fibre to my premises.

      I always got 10MBps upstream average, and the burst allows brief periods over that; I’ve seen above 14MBps in two seconds over iftop. This may not help everyone, but it’s useful for what I was doing – serving files in the couple of MBs. BT barely manages 7.5Mbps with no burst. Of course the downstream is similar, 108Mbps vs. 44Mbps. And if I wanted more from Virgin, I could pay a little more, rather than a lot more.

      Now, BT *does* have better latency – say, 10ms vs 25ms, or one frame for most gamers – and slightly better reliability at night (except for that one time the phone line fell off our roof). And they’re usually cheaper, have a better router (at least when I was using Virgin with BT last year), better landline phone packages, and the underlying service is available from far more providers – though hopefully Virgin will be changing this.

    9. alex says:

      Not sure what you are going on about the upload speed on Virgins top package is the same as it is on BTs that being 110Mb.

      Virgin as stated just like any provider have ample capacity to deal with what relatively speaking given events is only very minor increases in traffic for now.

      Sounds like just another VM random rant.

    10. alexj says:

      Not sure what you are going on about the upload speed on Virgins top package is the same as it is on BTs that being 110Mb.

      Virgin as stated just like any provider have ample capacity to deal with what relatively speaking given events is only very minor increases in traffic for now.

      Sounds like just another VM random moan.

    11. André says:

      @Carl T

      You may disagree with my points. I suggest you tone down the aggressiveness.

    12. CarlT says:

      I’ll pass on taking lectures on tone from the guy who writes ‘Virgin’s upstream offerings is pathetic and then having the gall to crow about “ample network capacity” just exposes them for the liars they are.’

    13. André says:

      Suit yourself… ‍♂️

    14. CarlT says:

      Thanks for the permission.

  2. Sean Smith says:

    The graphs are meaningless. No speed data on the scale. Was is a scale of 0 to 10mb? 0 to 500mb? Who knows!

    1. Steve V says:

      They are comparitive graphs, not absolute graphs. It’s very clear that traffic peaks and wanes at specific times in response to external events. They are also related to typical values.

  3. David says:

    I use Virgin. I get 110mbs down, 10.5mbs up. 10 mbs up is plenty for any business or gaming purpose. I could serve HD TV whilst running a video call on that. My service had been up throughout the current situation. By comparison I still have an ADSL connection from Origin. Thats 10.5 down, 0.8 up and fails nightly.

    1. dave says:

      10Mbps enough for ANY business purpose?

      Get a grip.

    2. dave says:

      10Mbps enough for ANY business purpose?

      Get a grip!

    3. Dale says:

      I can confirm that 10 Mbps upload is absolutely not enough for any business need. My wife and I are both working from home, and my job often requires me to upload large files. Now, with 10 Mbps upload, whenever I’m uploading files my wife gets kicked off her Zoom calls.

      Our 50 Mbps download bandwidth is relatively untouched, but the poor upload speed is a major bottleneck. BT have refused to let me upgrade without entering into a new 24-month contract, so I’m stuck with it for now.

    4. CarlT says:


      However much bandwidth you have if you’re uploading large files and letting them go without rate limit you’ll cause issues for your wife.

    5. Ryan says:

      You’re joking, right? Just because that bandwidth is okay for you, does NOT mean it’s okay for everyone else. Especially businesses.

      I wish my ISP offered more upload, I max out my 40Mbps up constantly with Plex Media Streaming.

      Now if I’m able to do that as one person, think of businesses who need to deliver content to a lot of people or the world. 1,000Mbps would not even come close to being acceptable.

      Your use-case != Everyone’s use-case.

    6. CarlT says:

      Content providers don’t deliver content from their own office connections.

  4. SunspotDJ says:

    no news, same boring “unrealiable” information

  5. Philippos says:

    Virgin Media saying that they can cope is a total lie. I pay for 200mbps download speed and since the crisis started and closures have been enforced, it has dropped to 40-70mbps. Whichever can live with and understand. However, the last couple of days it dropped even further, averaging around 8-10mbps with the lower value of 2mbps!!!! They say that they have no faults and no issues have been reported. Following their online tests and suggestions has not solve the problem.
    Don’t take me wrong, I expect to be a drop in the speed, but that big a drop is the opposite of, we have ample capacity.

    1. CarlT says:

      Like that all the time or during peak only?

      You know that your experience isn’t typical of everyone, only a couple of hundred customers in your area, right?

      Locally there are likely issues on a number of providers.

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