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Openreach See UK Broadband Usage Double in 2020 to 50,000PB

Wednesday, Dec 30th, 2020 (7:57 am) - Score 8,536

Openreach (BT) has revealed that broadband usage across their network of UK ISPs “more than doubled” in 2020 to reach an annual total of 50,000 PetaBytes (PB), which is up from 22,000PB last year. Overall, the average property connected to their “fibre” networks used around 3000 GigaBytes (GB) of data (c.9GB per day).

The network operator supplies a large number of broadband ISPs (e.g. TalkTalk, BT, Sky Broadband and hundreds more) across the country and as such their platform often sees the impact of big events, such as major software updates, online game releases or live video streaming.

NOTE: 1 PetaByte is equal to 1,000 TeraBytes (TB) or 1,000,000 GigaBytes (GB).

The main differences between this year and last year have of course stemmed from the COVID-19 crisis, which forced more people to work and play from home, as well as the rapid rollout of gigabit capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) services and the release of new video game consoles from Microsoft (Xbox Series X/S) and Sony (PS5).

The busiest day for the UK’s broadband on Openreach’s network was Boxing Day, Saturday 26th December 2020, when a record 210PB was consumed across their “fibre networks” (i.e. FTTC, FTTP, G.fast etc.). Just for comparison, January and February 2020 saw data consumption at around 2,700PB per month – before the pandemic brought about a big increase – with most months at more than 4,000PB – for the rest of the year.


Key Findings for 2020

— The busiest day was Saturday 26 December 2020 when a record 210PB was consumed across Openreach’s network.

— The 2nd and 3rd busiest days were Monday 14 November (209PB) and Saturday 15 August (195.9PB) 2020.

— The average property connected to the Openreach network used around 3,000GB of data in 2020, or around 9GB per day.

— The busiest months in 2020 were December (4722PB), August (4,894PB) and October (4,850PB.)

— During the Christmas and New Year period:

Boxing Day was the busiest day with a total of 210PB being consumed.

Video calls during the heightened Coronavirus restrictions, as well as TV streaming (Netflix and live sport) and gaming console downloads were the contributing factors.

This year, network usage on Christmas day was nearly double that of last year:

Christmas day 2019 = 96PB
Christmas day 2020 = 181PB

— During the first lockdown (March 2020), we very quickly saw about a 30 per cent increase in daytime broadband use compared to pre-Coronavirus times, mainly due to a huge increase in home-working and, particularly during the first lockdown, home-schooling.

— Online gaming continues to have a big impact on the UK’s broadband consumption, with many of the major data spikes focussed around updates to popular PlayStation, PC and Xbox games – including Call of Duty and Fortnite .

— The busiest day on the Openreach network tends to be a Saturday or a Sunday – as it was pre-Coronavirus. The busiest time of day on the network tends to be between 7pm and 10pm.

Despite all this Openreach says their network continued to cope with the demands place upon it and saw “no major outages throughout 2020,” although that last statement does of course exclude the many localised outages that will occur across the UK every year (e.g. those caused by storms or third-parties damaging their cables and infrastructure). Not to mention that ISPs can sometimes suffer outages too due to other problems.

Colin Lees, CTIO of Openreach, said:

“It’s been a year unlike any other and we believe that’s played a major part in this huge jump in data consumption. We know more businesses asked their employees to work from home throughout most of 2020, so connecting remotely has been and continues to be important for everyone.

January and February saw data consumption at around 2,700PB per month – before the pandemic brought about a big increase – with most months at more than 4,000PB – for the rest of the year.

In terms of capacity, our network has coped well during the pandemic. 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 titles on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.”

We should point out that demand for data is constantly rising and so new peaks of usage are being set all the time by every UK ISP, although 2020 has certainly seen a much more rapid rise than usual, due to all of the aforementioned factors, and this looks set to continue into 2021.

UPDATE 9:02am

We managed to find a chart showing the visual traffic change across 2020 and have added it above.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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26 Responses
  1. Avatar photo A_Builder says:

    It would be interesting to know the usage growth on copper connections and separately the usage growth from FTTP.

    I suspect this is more demand led than capacity driven.

    1. Avatar photo AnotherTim says:

      I suspect that a lot of the data growth is simply due to video streaming using higher resolutions that become possible when moving to faster broadband. On ADSL2+ I had to limit iPlayer to the lowest quality to get it to play at all (2Mbps), but on 4G I can watch 4K UHD (35Mbps). That’s a big increase in data, but without actually changing my behaviour – I’m still just watching a video (but it is a much better quality picture!)

  2. Avatar photo wirelesspacman says:

    As A_Builder says, I too suspect this is more demand led than capacity driven.

    9 GB a day per customer is still only 270 GB a month. This makes me wonder what the median usage level is. One the one hand, this might be a lot less than 270 GB a month – for example if the majority of users don’t do gaming and are still fairly traditional in how they view “TV”. On the other hand, it might actually be a lot more than 270 GB – if, for example, the average usage was being skewed by a very small proportion of prolific downloaders.

    I also, as ever, do wonder about the stories about usage surging upwards due to “home working” and “home schooling”. I accept the “home” bit, but do suspect that the usage is due more to Netflix binging whilst at home!

    1. Avatar photo A_Builder says:

      The ISP would know if it was Netflix from the peering traffic.

      The key is the upstream as that tends to be more work related.

      With DropBox there is a LAN sync function so that it will try and pull the data LANside before looking WANside. Clearly if WFH all of it goes WANside.

    2. Avatar photo wirelesspacman says:

      Do take your point about upstream, though the article really is all about downstream.

      Hard to be sure from the graph, but it does look like the ratio of up:down did shrink early on during the lockdown (eg sudden increase of work at home, as you point out), but by the end of the year the ratio looks like it had reverted back to ish where it was at the start of the year (eg work at home remained ish same as in early lockdown, but Netflix and gaming gorging carried on increasing).

    3. Avatar photo Dan says:

      Could you just run us through your calculations for that? I may well be wrong but my figure was 1.2 megabits per second rather than 0.83. Don’t think I’m right either! Also, the byte bit conversion.

  3. Avatar photo NE555 says:

    9GB per day is only 0.83Mbps average over 24 hours – or 2.5Mbps spread over 8 hours, with the line idle for the other 16. That’s perfectly reasonable.

    IMO, the graph labelled “Record breaking year for broadband” is hugely misleading. If you look very carefully, it shows random individual days from the year, which have been joined together as if they’re contiguous.

    1. Avatar photo John says:

      “9GB per day is only 0.83Mbps average over 24 hours – or 2.5Mbps spread over 8 hours, with the line idle for the other 16. That’s perfectly reasonable.”

      But but but… We’re always hearing that GPON isn’t sufficient. It’s only capable of delivering about 83Mb/s if everyone on a PON is using it at once.

      Think I’ll bookmark this article and just paste it every time someone makes the ridiculous assumption that a contended national network needs contention free gigabit 24 hours a day

      Spread that usage over 4 hours at peak instead of 8. That’s 5Mb/s.
      Double usage.
      Double it again.
      That’s still only an average of 20Mb/s during a 4 hours peak window, if current usage doubles, then doubles again.
      It doesn’t usually double year on year.

      That kinda makes the arguement that “OpenReach FTTP isn’t really gigabit because we can’t all order it at once” fall flat on its face.

  4. Avatar photo Mark Scott says:

    1,000 Petabytes is an Exabyte

  5. Avatar photo Willy says:

    Mah willy grew by an inch too – we all had a good yr in growth 😀

    1. Avatar photo There are other things to worry about says:

      Whatever makes you happy little boy 🙂

  6. Avatar photo Optimist says:

    Having cancelled my TV licence and received a refund, all my TV is now received via my internet connection. Rather a waste of Freeview bandwidth, until the government grasps the nettle and stops the BBC charging viewers to receive non-BBC broadcasts.

    1. Avatar photo New_Londoner says:

      The licence fee covers all public service broadcasting, not just that from the BBC. Switching to IPTV doesn’t necessarily mean that a licence isn’t required.

      “A TV licence is required if you:

      * watch or record live TV programmes on any channel
      * download or watch any BBC programmes on iPlayer – live, catch up or on-demand

      This applies to any provider you use and any device, including a TV, desktop computer, laptop, mobile phone, tablet, games console, digital box or DVD/VHS recorder.

    2. Avatar photo Mr John Warren says:

      That’s all very well cancelling your licence for your TV but you still have to pay for watching the BBC on the internet they can trace you back via you Telephone & ISP Provider,and they have closed the loophole for watching the BBC via the internet you still have too pay you licence fee like the rest of us.Enless you you give up thre internet, they can trace you Internet via your ISP box and at the exchange

    3. Avatar photo John says:

      “they have closed the loophole for watching the BBC via the internet you still have too pay you licence fee like the rest of us.Enless you you give up thre internet, they can trace you Internet via your ISP box and at the exchange”

      Can I borrow your tin foil hat?

      You haven’t got a clue what your are taking about.

      Since when was the BBC able to do mass surveillance, checking the IP of every single person watching their services.

      You also do know you’re allowed to use your TV license in someone else house when watching iplayer?

      How would they know if ANY usage was from a licensed person or not?
      Hint, they don’t.

      In order to catch someone streaming iPlayer illegally they need to…
      1. get your IP
      2. link that IP to an address.
      3. know everyone who’s in that address at that moment in time.
      They can’t do 2 without a court order. They can’t do 3 unless they are at your door.

      Until the BBC require a login, linked to a license, they can’t do Jack about someone watching iplayer online.
      While BBC iPlayer requires a login, it doesn’t even need to be a real email. No activation email is ever sent.

      My iPlayer login is nolicense@forbbc.com

      I haven’t owned a TV license since 2014.

    4. Avatar photo DL says:

      You do realise that most of phase 1 of BDUK was paid for from the licence fee?

    5. Avatar photo JItteryPinger says:

      @DL – So?

    6. Avatar photo Craig says:

      Same here cancelled my tv license get yourself a guardian router that router is a vpn modded one you can watch any iptv stream including bbc iplayer without your isp checking your data…..

    7. Avatar photo Optimist says:

      Yes I am quite aware of the rules, thank you. I do not watch any live TV or any BBC at all (not worth watching IMO), so I do not require a licence. I have contacted some broadcast channels, whose output I like, to suggest they put their material on-line and charge for it, in order to avoid their viewers deserting them as they refuse to keep funding the BBC.

  7. Avatar photo JItteryPinger says:

    Would be interesting to see if their usage falls in future with alternative providers rolling out infrastructure.

  8. Avatar photo jet14 says:

    I average around 25GB per day, from my router stats.

  9. Avatar photo Spurple says:

    The 50 million terabytes of data feels small to me. I had always though it would be an unimaginable number if bytes were rallied

    1. Avatar photo Spurple says:

      Make that “tallied”, but I think rallied would be an interesting sight

    2. Avatar photo wirelesspacman says:

      Lol Spurple, yes it would be.

      I think a lot of people imagine their usage is much higher than it really is – possibly due to all of the marketing bods pushing the “absolute need” for unlimited usage tariffs. Also, the average does tend, I think, to get skewed by a small proportion of customers using a disproportionate amount of bandwidth.

      One thing that did fascinate me yesterday was when I was round at a customer’s house looking at their wifi issues and was watching their son playing FIFA (or some such football game!) online. I was logged onto their router at the time and saw that the usage was actually only around 30 or 40 Kbps (yes, I really do mean kilobits per second). Not being a gamer myself, I had no idea it would be that low. Whether that is typical for most online games, I have no idea but would be interested to know.

    3. Avatar photo Andrew Ferguson says:

      Low bit rates in the 40 to 64 Kbps are perfectly normal during game play.

      Rises if people have team speak (voice running).

      Gaming chews the data with the big regular updates, hence why COD features in the chart Mark published

    4. Avatar photo Spurple says:


      Indeed, most gaming today is rendered locally and only inputs need to be transmitted. That makes for low network utilisation. It’s highly sensitive to jitter and latency though.

      With game streaming gaining traction, it could begin to rival video streaming for bandwidth consumption.

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