Posted by Jeanie York, Virgin Media’s Chief Technology and Information Officer
COVID 19 - Keeping you connected
24 March 2020
We’ve always been proud of our network at Virgin Media. As the UK’s fastest widely-available home broadband provider, we’re continually investing to connect more people and keep pace with rising demand for data intensive services like high-quality video streaming, music downloads and online gaming.
To make sure we can keep our customers connected, we forecast demand. Our busiest times are normally in the evening when people return from work and stream video content, and we are set up for this - we do it every single day. We design our network to cope with periods of very high demand, including traffic spikes during exceptional events.
Today, we are facing a new challenge: the global COVID 19 pandemic. Almost overnight, millions of our customers are working from home, accessing and sharing files on corporate networks, joining video conferences or accessing online entertainment during periods of self-isolation. This has caused a data use on our network to increase on a daily basis.
New trends in data use are emerging
Traffic across our network is starting to build earlier than usual – starting at about 8am – and remaining higher than usual for both downstream and upstream traffic during the day.
Downstream traffic has increased around 50% during daytime hours but demand is still significantly below levels we experience in the evening peak. Our network is built to withstand this daily evening peak, and right now is comfortably accommodating this daytime increase. That’s why we’re continuing to be able to provide the vast majority of our customers with speeds faster than their headline package speed i.e. more than 200Mbps on our M200 product.
Upstream traffic – including traffic sent by our customers on video calls - has increased by up to 95% during daytime hours. This has largely been caused by more and more people working from home and sending files and data back to corporate networks. This traffic is increasing throughout the day and continuing into the evening, with peak upstream traffic up around 25% on the previous week, showing people are working later or joining conference calls with friends and family. Our network has ample capacity to handle this increased demand.
Despite the unique circumstances, we see some familiar patterns. Upstream traffic is dipping slightly at lunchtime as remote workers stop for lunch and again at 5.30PM when people log off for the day. We’re also seeing evidence of people staying at home and social distancing with network demand up at the weekend. Upload data spiked on Mothering Sunday as many families held video calls with loved ones.
Another change we’ve seen over the past week is in the number and length of landline calls. Last week, our landline network saw large growth in demand with voice call minutes up 80% week on week during the morning busy hour, peaking at 10am with around 2.5 million calls per hour.
In recent days we’ve seen our customers spend nearly twice as much time on their landline phones in the early evening as they did a week ago, with phone call minutes up by as much as 94%. Meanwhile mobile data use has declined slightly as people spend more time at home.
Continuing to protect our network
Despite increased data use on our network, we’re not at capacity and are continuing to provide our customers with the ultrafast and reliable services they expect. The coronavirus pandemic has still not pushed up demand to the levels seen during recent computer game releases or when multiple premier league games were streamed simultaneously.
While we don’t know exactly what lies ahead, it’s clear that our network is performing a more critical role and we’re committed to playing our part in keeping the country connected.