Before the pandemic, iGR had forecast that wired home broadband usage would reach 365 gigabytes (GBs) per household (HH) per month on average in 2021. Now, we expect average home wired broadband usage in 2021 to reach 403 GBs per HH per month. Moreover, we expect it to remain 10-15 percent higher than we had originally forecast. By 2025, we forecast the average U.S. household will use approximately 558 GB per month of wired broadband.

Average home wired broadband usage jumped because everyone was forced to be home and since everything was closed, the Internet became the main source of continued schooling, work, seeing doctors and finding entertainment. So, data usage increased: video streaming (Netflix, Hulu, etc.), game downloads, audio streaming, video conferencing (Zoom, Teams, etc.) and chatting (FaceTime, etc.). With people having found more convenient ways to get everyday “stuff” done, we do not think those changes will be reversed.

Another trend is the probably permanent change to how corporate America functions. Consider the following data from this paper (Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Accelerated the Future of Work or Changed Its Course? Implications for Research and Practice (nih.gov) which I paraphrase and summarize here:

  • In 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 29 percent of wage and salary workers could work at home and 25 percent had opted to do so at some point, but only 15 percent of employees reported working full days exclusively from home.
  • At the pandemic’s outset, many employees were forced to transition from primarily working onsite to working from home. The BLS estimated 35 percent of the U.S. workforce worked from home due to the pandemic at least once in May 2020. By year end 2020, those forced to work from home because of the pandemic had fallen to 24 percent. By July 2021, 13 percent reported that they had been forced to work from home at some point in the past four weeks due to the pandemic.
  • Between October 2020 and April 2021, a Gallup study found that of those white-collar workers working from home, 71 percent wanted to continue working from home. Similarly, a Harvard Business school study found that 81 percent of professionals who had been working remotely from March 2020 to March 2021 either did not wish to return to the office or wanted to telework via a hybrid schedule (e.g., working 2 to 3 days at home per week).

A permanent increase in the number of corporate workers who work from home one or more days per week will also decrease the total data usage on the wired (and cellular) networks in cities where they work. That change will ripple into other areas, as well: the cellular networks along the highways, congestion on those roads, ridership of public transportation, businesses (e.g., restaurants) in those cities.

More people staying at home for work means that data usage is more distributed – i.e., down to the subdivision level. This obviously changes the timelines for when wired broadband operators add throughput to their networks while increasing the breadth and depth of their coverage. And, of course this also means continued expansion of data centers, introduction of more edge compute nodes, pushing fiber networks (in the HFC networks) closer to end users.