Due to COVID-19, broadband usage spikes 47% in Q1, nearly surpassing all of 2020's projections—report

The coronavirus pandemic has driven broadband usage levels by 47% year-over-year in the first quarter, according to a report by OpenVault.

OpenVault, which collects U.S. cable subscribers' usage behaviors and puts them into data sets, said the average broadband consumption increased from 273.5 GB in the first quarter of last year to 402.5 GB in the recent first quarter. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, OpenVault had projected that the average consumption would reach 425 GB by the end of the year. Instead, due in large part to subscriber self-quarantines and work from home policies, OpenVault said the average monthly usage for April was on track to top 460 GB.

The areas with the sharpest growth in this year's first quarter were the power uses of 1 TB or more, and "extreme" power uses of 2 TB or more. The percentage of subscribers who were power users in reached 10%, which was an increase of 138% over the 4.2% of power users in the same quarter a year ago.  Extreme power users represented 1.2% of all subscribers, up 215% from 0.38% year over year.

OpenVault had projected earlier this year that by the end of 2020 power users and extreme power users would represent 12% and 1.4%, respectively, of all subscribers.

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“Nearly all the growth in broadband usage we would have expected for 2020 has now been achieved in the first quarter, with much of it concentrated in the last two weeks of the quarter,” according to the report. “The COVID-19 pandemic changed broadband usage patterns in substantial ways, perhaps permanently. Broadband operators will need to understand the implications of this shifting broadband usage behavior and plan their network performance capabilities accordingly.”

With millions of employees working from home, along with online learning, more video conferencing and gaming in March, the increased broadband usage also pushed some users to switch to faster broadband tiers. The percentage of subscribers provisioned for gigabit-speed service increased 97% to 3.75% in Q1 year-over-year from last year's 1.9% and was up 34% from the 2.8% at the end of last year.