Analysis released by UK multiplay operator Virgin Media O2 reveals the impact of a tumultuous year of highs and lows on the nation’s connectivity habits across mobile, broadband and TV networks.
In a year that saw a third national lockdown, a summer of freedom and then the emergence of omicron and new restrictions, as well as unexpected sporting triumphs and major gaming launches, the one thing that remained constant was the nation’s reliance on technology.
Virgin Media O2 saw its biggest ever year for data use on both broadband and mobile networks, as more people than ever went online to chat, stream, share and game. In 2021, customers downloaded 19 per cent more broadband data than the previous year, with mobile traffic up 45 per cent year on year.
Following analysis of tens of millions of customers from January 1st – December 10th 2021, Virgin Media O2 reveals the consumer connectivity habits that shaped 2021.
Gaming became the new going out
Lockdown supercharged our nation of Twitchers, Fortniters, Roblox and FIFA players, with people stuck at home using more data than ever for gaming. New releases of Call of Duty, Fortnite and Apex Legends drove huge data use spikes in February and March, leading to some of the busiest days for broadband traffic.
But even after the nation regained its freedom in July, gaming on Virgin Media’s broadband network continued to rise with lockdown habits dying hard. December 5th marked the biggest data download day, driven by the hotly anticipated release of Fortnite Chapter 3, while Warzone Caldera and Halo Infinite, which dropped 13 hours apart, caused evening traffic to surge to the second highest levels ever on December 8th, as gamers scrambled to get their hands on the new releases.
Symptoms of pandemic fatigue set in
After months of doom and gloom tuning into the Government’s daily Coronavirus briefings, Brits showed increasing signs of pandemic fatigue this year, watching 15 per cent less news than a year ago.
Fed-up of COVID, the nation’s attention turned instead to the return of live sport, which resulted in a 24 per cent growth in Sports viewing. The busiest days of TV viewing were linked to some of the biggest sporting moments early in the year including the India vs England Test Cricket, FA Cup clashes and The Super Bowl. And in early December, Premier League matches streamed on Amazon Prime drove the busiest evening peak of the year, with broadband traffic up 34 per cent on average, and 24 per cent higher than the previous year’s events.
WFH weariness to hybrid bliss
Analysis from Virgin Media’s broadband network revealed Brits downloaded on average 18.9GB of data per day between January and February 2021 – a 52 per cent increase on pre-pandemic levels1 – to help them navigate home-schooling and the mandate to work from home.
As we finally connected IRL, we took the chance to refresh our socials
But taking advantage of this new-found freedom took time to plan. Google app usage peaked between June and August as people searched for inspiration online, while an analysis of Google search data by Virgin Media O2 showed a 174 per cent uplift in searches for ‘Staycation’ over the last year.
The data highs and lows of the year
“This has been another rollercoaster of a year and our digital behaviours reflect that,” notes Jeanie York, Chief Technology Officer, Virgin Media O2. “Amidst another lockdown and varying restrictions, we’ve seen a sustained growth in demand for our services as customers have made a long-term shift to hybrid-working, and we’ve seen the explosion of online gaming – all of which enhance our need for ultrafast and reliable connectivity across our fixed and mobile networks.”
“The data is clear that these changes are long-lasting: even as we regained our freedom, we continued to connect with friends and family. Whatever 2022 has in store for us, we’re fully prepared to keep the country connected with the things they love,” she confirms.