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Cable/Video

Virgin Media broadband subs have downloaded an extra 325GB during pandemic

Virgin Media, the UK's largest cable operator, has shed new light on network usage trends during the pandemic, disclosing that broadband customers have been downloading an extra 3.4 gigabytes of data per day on average compared to the download levels seen in February 2020.

Virgin Media estimates that this equates to every customer watching two movies – or about 2.5 hours of Netflix videos – each day on top of their broadband usage levels prior to the implementation of stay at home orders. Notably, Netflix and other popular streaming services defaulted to standard-definition streaming video quality in Europe to help ISPs get a grip on network traffic spikes fueled by lockdowns.

During the busiest week of the lockdown, Virgin Media customers were downloading a third more data than before, consuming an extra 32.5GB of data compared to February.

With everything rolled up, Virgin Media estimates that its broadband customers, on average, have downloaded an extra 325GB of data during the three months or so since lockdown versus pre-pandemic levels over the same time period.

Virgin Media noted that 99% of its broadband customers currently subscribe to a data tier of 100 Mbit/s or more.

Similar to what US cable operators are seeing, Virgin Media has also seen a big increase in upstream data traffic as more consumers work and play at home and utilize Zoom and other videoconferencing apps on the residential network at a much greater rate.

Among the raw numbers, Virgin Media said customers are uploading an extra 3.7GB per week, enough for each customer to make about 14 hours of one-on-one "high-quality" video calls on Zoom or to send about 185,000 emails.

On a regional basis, Virgin Media customers in London have been downloading 20% more through the pandemic period, compared to a 10% rise in Wales, which marked the lowest regional increase for the cable op. Meanwhile, Virgin Media's subs in Northern Ireland had the greatest peak usage among the MSO's service areas, and Scottish customers downloaded the least of all the UK regions during the busiest 8 p.m.-10 p.m. period, the company said.

Virgin Media noted that overall data consumption has come down a bit recently, though a doubling of upstream usage during daytime hours has remained.

Among other high-level findings, Virgin Media said April was the busiest month on record on the cable operator's network, with usage in May close behind. However, Virgin Media maintains that its network held up to the surge with capacity to spare.

Virgin Media's parent company, Liberty Global, has stressed that the spikes in traffic levels during the pandemic have not forced a need to make any major changes to its general network upgrade and capacity plans.

Speaking at a next-gen cable event last week focused on Europe and hosted by Light Reading, Liberty Global VP of technology Bill Warga noted that the company might consider making some minor changes to its upgrade plans on a targeted, case-by-case basis should parts of the network see higher than normal congestion occurring in the upstream.

"But it's mostly business-as-usual for us with scalable upgrades that we do on a yearly basis and the capex that we put into that," Warga said.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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