Keeping customers connected in lockdown and beyond

When the UK went into lockdown in March this year, there was speculation on whether our networks would be able to cope. On top of the huge demand from blockbuster game launches and updates, constant software downloads, and mass streaming of popular TV series, millions of us swapped our usual places of work and education for home, and the way we kept ourselves entertained and in touch with loved ones went almost entirely online and virtual.

Even though our usage of data more than doubled, our networks were able to stand up to the demands. So much so, that average download speeds on our broadband network were able to increase by more than 15% in the past year.[1]

With daytime traffic on our broadband network more than doubling over the course of this year, we also witnessed some big changes in the way our mobile network is being used, including:

  • A massive 45% increase in traffic for communications apps such as WhatsApp, Houseparty, Skype and Microsoft Teams

  • A more than tripling of users on fitness app Strava as people took to the great outdoors for their daily exercise

  • A soar in popularity for Zoom, with an increase of more than five times the number of users compared to pre-lockdown times

Now, two weeks in to England’s second nationwide lockdown, we’re seeing, once again, continued pressure put on our networks. For us, it’s not just a case of building out our networks – we’re also stress testing and optimising both our mobile and fixed networks to make sure that whatever may come – be it the biggest sporting event or most popular game launch, our customers are able to continue to enjoy a seamless experience.

Last week, we announced we’re working with Microsoft to offer the latest Xbox Series X|S consoles to our customers. The launch of these consoles and subsequent game downloads, paired with an update to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and a Microsoft Windows patch created the largest traffic peak our broadband network has ever seen, at 18Tbps.

We build our networks to cope with peaks throughout the year. They will facilitate some more big moments this month, including the launch of the highly anticipated PlayStation 5, and the rumoured return of Fortnite to mobile devices – adding extra demand to both our fixed and mobile networks.

The UK is one of the world’s most advanced digital economies, with networks which facilitate our love of bandwidth-hungry applications. That’s not the case everywhere, as recent news has confirmed. Citizens in Greece have been advised not to use online entertainment applications and social media between the peak hours of 9am-6pm to avoid compromising connectivity for those needing to work from home due to lockdown – something internet users in the UK would likely never expect to happen.

I’m incredibly proud of our amazing team who don’t just build our networks, they are constantly enhancing them so that our customers enjoy an uninterrupted experience whatever they’re doing. We’re relied on not only by our customers to deliver the connectivity they need every day, but also, by the surprisingly small handful of major content and gaming platforms, who have a growing dependency upon our bandwidth, and increasingly expect us to deliver their services and content without fault.

Connectivity has never been more important as we get through this second lockdown in England, and I’m proud that our networks have the award-winning resilience and reliability to keep our customers online.

Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer division. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @marcallera

[1] Ofcom Home Broadband H1 2020 Report