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Openreach data points to slowdown in broadband traffic growth

Openreach data traffic grew by 9% in 2021, with sports and gaming, alongside Christmas, responsible for the largest peaks.

Tereza Krásová

January 8, 2024

3 Min Read
Man in an Openreach-branded neon green jacket in front of an open broadband cabinet, working.
(Source: David J. Green/Alamy Stock Photo)

Openreach has published its annual update on broadband traffic over its network, which it says increased 9% last year compared with 2022, reaching 94,722 petabytes (PB). The company has newly started including full-fiber traffic data in the statistic, having retrospectively calculated it for 2022. According to Light Reading's calculations, this suggests the growth in data traffic has slowed compared with previous years.

Openreach, a subsidiary of BT, runs the UK's largest fiber network. It said traffic hit its peak in December and that Boxing Day (December 26) was the busiest day of the year. The firm attributes this to Christmas downloads and online streaming of soccer matches. 

In general, Openreach says traffic increases when Amazon Prime live streams Premier League soccer matches or when new popular games are being released, such as Call of Duty. In a prepared comment, Trevor Linney, Openreach's director of network technology, said: "We're seeing a real pattern starting to emerge in these annual reports, with live sports and gaming at the heart of huge jumps in data usage."

Broadband traffic on Openreach network in 2023 by month.

On November 6, Openreach recorded its busiest hour ever as traffic reached 29.5 PB due to Amazon Prime streaming six Premier League matches between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. This tends to be the busiest hour of the day, with average traffic reaching 21 PB. Sundays are, meanwhile, generally the busiest days.

Online streaming and gaming downloads also contributed to a 
13% increase in broadband usage on Virgin Media O2's network ­– the second largest in the UK. The company also pointed to an ongoing rise in home working, with broadband traffic increasing 14% during conventional working hours compared with 2022.

Full-fiber growth

With Openreach retrospectively adding full-fiber traffic to 2022 data, that figure stood at 86,901 PB based on Light Reading's calculations. Originally, Openreach included only superfast broadband, or fiber-to-the-cabinet (FTTC), in the figure, which was then 64,364 PB, a 2.5% increase on the previous year. 

Light Reading reached out to Openreach for comment on the calculated increase in 2022. A company spokesperson advised that the growth percentages for previous years were correct at the time they were taken and added that the fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) base was too small before 2021 to make a significant difference to the data-traffic statistics.

Yet this implies FTTP traffic was high enough to affect 2021 statistics, meaning growth rates may have been different in 2021 and 2022 from the ones originally reported.

Light Reading has generously estimated the PB figure for combined FTTP and FTTC broadband traffic in 2021, based on connections that year. Those stood at 790,000 at the beginning of the year and reached 1.5 million at its end. As a result, it would appear the growth in data traffic has been gradually slowing in recent years (see chart below).

Screenshot_2024-01-08_at_09.52.47.png

The inclusion of full-fiber traffic comes after Openreach announced in December that it had passed 12.5 million premises – half of its goal for 2026. Its network is being used by parent company BT, as well as hundreds of other smaller firms, including Sky, TalkTalk and Vodafone. In November last year – roughly a year before the last update – Openreach counted 8.8 million premises passed.

While the UK's fiber build-out advances at a swift pace, take-up is still lagging. Regulator Ofcom stated in December's Connected Nations report that, in the 12 months to May 2023, fiber take-up stood at 28% of premises where it was available, up from 25% a year prior. 

Openreach says full fiber allows simultaneous 4K or 8K streaming on multiple devices without a drop in performance. As a result, further take-up is likely to boost traffic even further in coming years.

Read more about:

Europe

About the Author(s)

Tereza Krásová

Associate Editor, Light Reading

Associate Editor, Light Reading

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