The Industry

Q1 Broadband Usage Still Robust

The OpenVault Insights Report for the first quarter of 2022 shows that broadband usage remains high. The company gathers broadband usage data through ISPs from millions of individual broadband users to compile these reports, making the results a lot more reliable than a typical small sample.

Average household broadband usage in March 2022 was measured at 514 gigabytes, staying over half a terabyte of data used for the average household. That’s a measure of the total combined upload and download usage for the average customer during a month. This is a drop from 536 gigabytes in the fourth quarter of 2021, but the first quarter has always shown seasonally lower usage than at the end of the previous year. Usage for the first quarter is up 11% from the 462 gigabytes in the first quarter of 2021. That’s a lower growth rate than the 20% growth rate we’ve come to expect – however, 2021 was not a normal year due to the extraordinary growth from the pandemic.

The OpenVault statistics continue to show a huge number of users that are consuming more than 1 terabyte of data per month. At the end of the first quarter, 14.6% of homes used more than 1 terabyte of data, including 2.4% who used over 2 terabytes. That’s a significant increase since the first quarter of 2021 when 10% of homes used more than 1 terabyte of data – a year-over-year growth rate of 46%.

One of the most interesting statistics reported by OpenVault is the migration of customers over time to faster broadband tiers. The following table shows the percentage of nationwide households subscribed to various broadband speed plans in 2020 and 2021.

June 2020 June 2021 Dec 2021 Mar 2022
Under 50 Mbps 18.4% 10.5% 9.4% 7.6%
50 – 99 Mbps 20.4% 9.6% 7.6% 6.3%
100 – 199 Mbps 37.8% 47.5% 36.9% 17.0%
200 – 499 Mbps 13.5% 17.2% 28.5% 49.7%
500 – 999 Mbps 5.0% 4.7% 5.5% 6.1%
1 Gbps 4.9% 10.5% 12.2% 13.4%

It’s important to note that the above chart shows the subscribed speed and not the actual speeds, which are often lower. The migration to faster speeds is being driven by two factors. One is the big cable companies unilaterally upgrading basic speeds to 200 Mbps. But many of the speed upgrades are customer driven, as can be seen by the big growth in customers subscribed to speeds faster than 500 Mbps.

The report also highlights something that network engineers have always understood, which is that big events cause big spikes in usage. I’ve understood this since the days since telephone company network engineers braced themselves for Mother’s Day. OpenVault looked at the usage in Kansas City during the NCAA March Madness basketball game between Kansas and Duke. The regional usage spiked 24% during the game compared to the previous three Mondays.

The report, as always, has a few other interesting tidbits:

  • Average North American usage is more than double the average broadband usage in Europe.
  • In 2017, less than 10% of homes used more than 500 gigabytes of data per month. That’s now up to 25% of homes.
  • Average household upload usage has grown from 25 gigabytes at the end of 2020 to 32.5 gigabits at the end of the first quarter of 2022. That’s a 30% increase in 15 months. Interestingly, subscribers with unlimited data plans use three times more upload bandwidth than other subscribers.
  • OpenVault reports average nationwide U.S. download speeds of 312 Mbps, and average upload speeds of 22.5 Mbps. However, they don’t define how that is calculated, so it’s hard to put that into context.

OpenVault’s conclusion from the latest data is that ISPs should expect the continued growth of customers who use more than a terabyte of data per month. They also note that there is a marketing opportunity for ISPs since customers seem willing to pay to upgrade to faster speeds.

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