Like any good gift shaker we’ve always been adept at deciphering what broadband consumption will be before it’s unwrapped. After 10 years of providing tools that help the industry manage networks and of using our expertise to analyze the resulting data, we know which indicators predict when usage will rise – and roughly speaking, to what level.

Not so much this year. As much as we’d like to tell you what’s coming as the ribbons, the bows and the paper are undone, the reality is that none of us knows exactly what’s around the corner or how it will impact consumer consumption of broadband.

The variables are as bottomless as Santa’s sack. Pandemic streaming and cord cutting, lockdowns and  vaccines, winter weather and holiday usage. What comes out and when will determine the broadband picture in the final weeks of 2020 and in the year ahead. 

Since the start of the COVID crisis we’ve seen broadband usage transformed as thoroughly as a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Consumption in three key areas – overall usage, business-hours usage and the upstream – surged to unprecedented levels when lockdowns were imposed in March. While usage receded or moderated as the initial crisis passed and summer weather arrived, it was clear that a) the gains registered during the pandemic would not fully go away and b) a new wave of increases would be likely. We’ve recently seen indications of the latter.  

With all that in mind, we’ll give a 2021 forecast our best shot, but forgive us if the 8K TV we thought we were unwrapping turns out to be a necktie:

  • A conservative projection for average monthly broadband use in 2021 would be 10% growth in North America, or 430-445 GB per subscriber, but monthly averages already are pushing past 480 GB and perhaps even 500 GB. We expect numbers to recede from those levels when conditions ease.
  • In Europe, our conservative baseline is 240-250 GB, but could exceed 270 GB under the right conditions.
  • Regardless of the variables, we expect to eclipse a milestone in North America for the percentage of power users who consume 1 TB or more of data per month. We believe it will reach 10%-11% – a 14% or more increase over 2020 – and it could go as high as 13%-14% while lockdowns are in place. 
  • In Europe, we project that power users will account for 1.5% of all subscribers under normal conditions, a 12% year-over-year increase. Those numbers could reach 2.5%-2.7% under a worst-case pandemic scenario.

In the end, though, there’s only one prediction I really want to get right in the new year: that 2021 sees the close of the pandemic. I think we all are looking forward to a time when we can return to a life with more freedom and less fear. Whenever that time comes, we know broadband service will be essential.  For now, all of us at OpenVault and OpenVault Europe wish you a safe, happy and healthy holiday season.