Broadband Usage Still Strong 1Q 2021

OpenVault just released its Broadband Insights Report for the 1st quarter of 2021. The report shows continued robust average household demand for broadband. The monthly average household usage at the end of the first quarter was 461.7 gigabytes. This is the combined upload and download usage for the average American home. To put that number into perspective, look how it fits into the past trend of broadband usage from OpenVault:

1st quarter 2018           215 Gigabytes

1st quarter 2019           274 Gigabytes

1st quarter 2020           403 Gigabytes

2nd quarter 2020          380 Gigabytes

3rd quarter 2020           384 Gigabytes

4th quarter 2020           483 Gigabytes

1st quarter 2021           462 Gigabytes

OpenVault observes that usage seems to be returning somewhat to seasonal patterns, where historically usage dropped in the first quarter each year compared to the preceding fourth quarter. The first-quarter usage is down 4% from the December 31 usage but is up 15% from the first quarter of the pandemic a year ago. Probably more importantly, usage is up 69% since 2019 and 115% since 2018. Average household bandwidth usage has more than doubled in three years – an extraordinary growth rate. It’s going to be really interesting later this year to see how households react to the end of the pandemic. The general expectation is that most classrooms will be back to normal by the fall, and a significant percentage of the workforce will start returning to the office.

The statistic that probably best defines the pandemic is the growth of average household upload usage each month. At the end of 2019, the average US home uploaded 19 gigabytes of data per month. By the end of 2020 that had grown to 31 gigabytes. In the first quarter that dipped a bit to an average of 30 gigabytes.

The first quarter saw a widening gap between the usage of homes with data caps at 440 gigabytes per month and homes with unlimited usage at 495 gigabytes per month. It appears that data caps cause homes to curtail usage of over 50 gigabytes per month.

Median usage dropped significantly in the quarter from 289 gigabytes at the end of the fourth quarter down to 269 gigabytes at the end of the first quarter. The median is the level at which 50% of homes use less broadband and 50% use more. A dropping median usage would indicate that a significant number of homes have reduced broadband usage – perhaps homes where students or adults went back to school or the office.

The number of households that are heavy users of broadband continues to be strong. At the end of the first quarter, 13% of homes consumed more than 1 terabyte of data per month (1,000 gigabytes), up from 7.3% of homes just a year earlier. OpenVault has started also counting what they call extreme users or homes using more than 2 terabytes per month – 1.6% of all homes were extreme users at the end of the first quarter, up from 1% only a year earlier.

Of all of the statistics gathered by OpenVault, the fastest-growing category is the number of homes subscribing to a gigabit-speed service. At the end of the fourth quarter that has grown to 9.8% of all households, three and half times the 2.8% of homes that were buying gigabit products at the end of 2019. Perhaps the most amazing statistic from OpenVault is that 80% of households now subscribe to a broadband service that provides speeds of 100 Mbps download or faster. This one fact alone provides the justification to update the outdated FCC definition of broadband of 25/3 Mbps. The vast majority of American households obviously believe broadband means 100 Mbps or faster.

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