Upstream data usage flattens but gigabit-speed subscribers continue to rise

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After what it called pandemic-fuelled rapid growth last year, OpenVault has released network consumption data showing that network users continued to adapt to the new broadband environment by embracing faster speeds, with data usage moderating in the first quarter of 2021.

In the software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based revenue and network improvement systems provider’s Broadband Industry Report (OVBI) for Q1 2021, the top-line finding was that broadband usage in the first quarter of 2021 appeared familiar, as normal seasonal patterns for data usage seem to be returning, in-line with pre-pandemic seasonal patterns.

That meant that after a 2020 that it said was as far from normal as you can get, OpenVault noted that broadband returned to historic trends of sequential (quarter-on-quarter) flat growth, or even small declines, in the first quarter of the year.

Almost one-tenth (9.8%) of all subscribers were found to have provisioned for gigabit speeds at the end of Q1, a year-on-year increase of 261% from the Q1 20 figure of 3.8%, and a 15% increase from the 8.5% adoption rate in the final three months of 2020. Over the past two quarters, the percentage of subscribers provisioned for gigabit-speed service has risen by 75%, from 5.6% in Q3 20.

The report also noted that slightly more than four-fifths of network subscribers were provisioned for 100Mbps speeds or higher, and that less than 5% are at 20Mbps or slower. Subscribers on usage-based billing (UBB) plans were adopting higher-speed packages more quickly than those on flat-rate billing (FRB) plans. The percentage of UBB subscribers on 100Mbps tiers in Q1 21 grew by 35% year-on-year – more than double the annual growth of 17% for FRB subscribers.

OpenVault’s analysis of Q1 21 data patterns also found that the monthly weighted average usage – including both UBB and FRB subscribers – was 461.7GBytes, up nearly 15% from 402.5GBytes a year earlier and down 4.3% from 482.6GBytes in the fourth quarter of 2020. OpenVault regarded the slight quarter-to-quarter decline as in line with historical first-quarter trends.

Upstream consumption was seen to be flat amid seasonal average usage declines. Nearly all the decline in monthly average usage occurred in the downstream, with monthly average upstream usage remaining relatively flat when compared to the 31GBytes recorded in Q4 20.

Power usage and extreme power usage – defined as consumption of more than 1TB and 2TB per month, respectively – declined in Q1 21, with the percentage of the former dropping by 12% to 12.4% on an annual basis and from the 14.1% recorded at the end of the fourth quarter of last year. The percentage of extreme power users declined by 14%, to 1.8% from Q4 20’s 2.2%. 1TB power users on UBB plans declined by 15.4% in Q1 21, while the decline for those 1TB users on unlimited FRB plans was less than half of that, or 7.1%.

Even though it stressed that it did not track device usage, OpenVault observed that the declines are related to subscribers returning to office and school environments. It also flagged that UBB operators were having more success at slowing the trajectory of bandwidth usage on their network than FRB operators were, despite the former having a higher percentage of higher-speed, higher-ARPU subscribers.

It concluded by saying that the widening gap in Q1 21 of total bandwidth usage between UBB networks and those of FRB networks, and the revenue and profitability implications that it may represent, was worth watching.


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