How well has UK broadband held up during the lockdown?

Impact of coronavirus on UK broadband

As expected, the UK's broadband network has held up pretty well in the face of the massive surge in demand caused by the coronavirus lockdown.

Despite a few high profile blips, most notably from Virgin Media and Sky Broadband, the network has been untroubled by the new normal of remote working, home schooling and daily PE lessons.

There has been a small impact. Download speeds have dropped by an average of 2%, and upload speeds by 1%, but neither is enough that you'd notice unless you're actively measuring your provider's performance on a regular basis.

Our own speed test figures for April show that the decline equated to less than 2Mb on average.

This impact of Covid-19 on broadband has been studied in a report by Ofcom. The industry watchdog installed modified routers in 1950 homes to get a clear picture of what was happening, and you can read it all in their latest UK Home Broadband Performance report.

Among the main effects of the lockdown were:

  • Download speeds started to decline around the middle of March, as more people began staying at home. The decline slowed from the 23rd of the month after Netflix reduced their video streaming quality.
  • Speeds during working hours fell by around 1-2%, with a slightly bigger drop during peak evening hours.
  • Virgin Media was the worst affected, with their average download speeds dropping by 6% at 8pm, and their upload speeds falling by over 4% between 3pm and 5pm. However, the faster speeds they offer on their services mean that customers would still be unlikely to be overly inconvenienced.
  • Netflix speeds were 4% lower before 6pm, likely due to increased use by kids off school, but 1% higher than usual in the evening - as a result of the lower streaming quality Netflix put in place.
  • Facebook, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Twitter all saw an increase in latency of up to 4%, meaning slightly slower connections to the services, or potentially a little more lag in video calls.

On the whole, the impact is encouragingly slight, given the way broadband usage has rocketed during the last couple of months. BT figures showed that daytime use soared by more than 60% in the first week after the restrictions were put in place.

While things are starting to ease a little, it looks as though the lockdown will be with us for some time yet. If you have any questions about broadband during the pandemic - whether about working from home, switching providers or keeping yourself entertained - you'll find the answers in our ongoing coronavirus series:

Graph source: Ofcom, using data provided by SamKnows. Graph shows the percentage change between week closing 2 March 2020 and week closing 23 March 2020; higher values are better; results are derived from tests to SamKnows' off-net London servers using 3 parallel TCP sessions for 10 seconds.

Posted by Andy Betts on 2020-05-18 16:49 in Features

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