Several ISPs have told MyBroadband that while certain data traffic patterns have returned to pre-lockdown levels, total data usage among fibre customers remained very high.
Driven by a huge increase in remote working and learning setups, South Africa’s COVID-19 lockdown saw Internet usage surge among fibre-to-the-home customers.
Multiple ISPs have said they witnessed enormous increases in traffic since the start of lockdown.
One example is Vox, which said it had recorded a 35% increase from February to March 2020 usage. Another is Level-7, who observed a 15% spike within the first two weeks of level 5 lockdown.
Many fibre network operators upgraded their line speeds at no charge to customers during this time, which provided much-needed relief for the unprecedented traffic.
Fibre speeds allow for superfluous download and upload capability, which means customers can easily consume hundreds of gigabytes – if not multiple terabytes of data – in a single month.
Biggest bandwidth hogs
One of the country’s biggest ISPs – Afrihost – previously told MyBroadband one such customer had used a total of 76TB in March 2020, the first month of South Africa’s hard lockdown.
MyBroadband wanted to know whether this trend had continued as lockdown levels were lowered, particularly as the country entered level 1 lockdown in September.
We asked major South African fibre ISPs for information on their biggest data users over the last quarter, when lockdown restrictions were relaxed and most people were allowed to return to their physical offices.
All of the ISPs who provided figures to MyBroadband had top data users in the terabyte double-digits.
The biggest data usage was by a customer on Vox’s network who had amassed 81TB on a 1Gbps download speed package.
The table below shows the data usage statistics of the top 3 users on several of South Africa’s top ISPs for the month of September.
Level-7 said while it had initially noted a massive surge in usage, the lowering of lockdown levels has seen a return to pre-lockdown usage patterns.
However, according to Cybersmart’s Laurie Fialkov, only peak usage times have normalised, while overall data usage has remained higher than before the lockdown.
“It is completely unchanged in volume, there is just a time of day shift,” Fialkov said.
“Usage peaks are shifting back to the usual Netflix times of 18:00 to 23:30. We expected this change to be more dramatic but it hasn’t been. It seems the trend of working from home has some longevity.”
Cool Ideas and RSAWEB’s experience has been much the same.
“There has not been any visible downwards trend in network usage during peak times. We have seen a slight decline in consumer usage during off-hours as most people are returning to work,” RSAWEB stated.
Vox provided figures of average usage between all its customers, which showed an increase from 300GB to over 400GB from February to March.
This only dropped back slightly to 347GB in June but was back up to 384GB by August.
Types of traffic
When it came to the most prevalent types of data traffic, all of the ISPs indicated that streaming contributed the largest chunk of usage for most customers.
“Streaming services and downloads contribute to most of the bandwidth on the network,” RSAWEB stated.
“Streaming is the main consumer of data, everything from Netflix to Youtube, it shows no signs of slowing down,” Level-7 said.
Cybersmart’s Fialkov said streaming and conferencing makes up the majority of its traffic by a long way.
“It accounts for more than double all the other traffic combined,” Fialkov said.
Vox noted that peer-to-peer downloads through BitTorrent produced the highest total usage from its customers, but also said that for most subscribers streaming was the biggest protocol.
“Also interesting to see things like Sharepoint 365 hitting the top 10 most consumed protocols,” Vox added.