Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, millions of people across Europe have been relying on our advanced broadband services to run their businesses or work from home, educate their children remotely and stay connected to families, friends and communities. Now, even as stay-at-home measures begin to be relaxed and businesses and consumers adjust to a “new normal” – our networks our still providing a critical lifeline to millions of households and businesses.

Over the past decade, Liberty Global has been building the next generation of broadband networks. We are the speed leader at scale in our markets, but more importantly, we go beyond speed to provide seamless, reliable, secure connections within the homes and businesses we serve. We are witnessing shifts in network usage never before imagined, and as a result we are monitoring the performance of our networks every minute to ensure our customers, as well as key services such as hospitals, medical centres, care facilities and supermarkets, stay connected.

Network Resilience 

Our high-speed networks have more than met their “new normal” of usage demands since the crisis began. As we upgraded communities across Europe to provide millions of homes access to Gigabit speed connections, we flooded the network with extra capacity in anticipation of our customers’ increased bandwidth needs.

Our networks have always been designed for surges such as the streaming of movies and series on Netflix, IOS upgrades and game downloads. But investments in advanced broadband and smart network management have served us well as world-changing events like COVID-19 have dramatically changed consumption patterns.

Bottom line, we are prepared. And even though there’s been a big increase in demand and traffic, it’s all within our network’s capability – and there’s still plenty of additional headroom if needed.

Operational performance for the week of April 19th compared with the week of February 3rd

While the first few days of the lockdown saw a 37% increase in downstream traffic – which includes things like streaming Netflix, receiving emails, downloading files, or surfing the web – that has now settled into a “new normal” – around 32% higher than before COVID-19. The amount of extra data used is also slightly down – from an initial 39% increase, to 34% more now.

By contrast, upstream traffic – which refers to things like sending emails, video clips or memes, uploading files or collaborating through Zoom or Google Hangouts – has stayed at a constant 61% higher than before the crisis. There is typically 10 times more downstream traffic than upstream. The more marked increase in upstream traffic is due to more working and learning from home and more communicating with friends and loved ones using collaborative tools and Cloud applications.

Not surprisingly, with so many people working from home during the day, more of us are using work-related devices. In the UK, Ireland and Switzerland, people are using 1.2 million more Windows computers and Macbooks. In the UK, Ireland, Switzerland and Austria, people are using 9 million more connected devices a day, and 40 per cent more WiFi. There’s been a 36% increase in the use of Facebook and Instagram, and an incredible 96% rise in online gaming.

Fewer, longer mobile calls

The way we use our mobile phones has also changed. Whereas previously we tended to make more short calls while we were out and about – saying we were running late, on our way home or similar – we are now making fewer, longer calls from home – either business-related or to family and friends.
There has been a fall in “on my way home/running late” calls and a big increase in business-related calls or long chats with family and friends from home.

Changing viewing habits

The way we are consuming our entertainment is different too. After March 13th, when the Dutch government asked people to stay at home, there were 18k more households using their set-top-boxes every day. That has now gone up to 31k more. But while there was an initial 16% increase in linear TV viewing – a lot of it driven by news conferences and government announcements – that has now settled into an increase of just 4% compared with before the crisis. However, viewing of daily news programmes is still more than double what it was before.

Upstream peak traffic time now spans most of the day

All of this adds up to a big change in how traffic is distributed throughout the day. Before the crisis, peak upstream traffic took place between 8pm and 10pm. It now spans most of the day – again, something we would expect given the number of people on video conferencing calls from morning until night.

Trends are similar in different countries, but volumes vary

Finally, while the broad trends are similar in all the countries in which we operate, there are differences in the percentage increase of upstream and downstream traffic, depending on where you are. Belgium, for instance, has seen an 84% increase in upstream traffic, compared with 35% in Slovakia. And the UK has the highest increase in downstream traffic, at 35%, compared with a 6% increase in The Netherlands.

Liberty Global will continue to provide insights on network performance and key trends as and when they change. Please check back regularly for updates.

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