A terabyte used to sound like an unusual amount of data for anyone to use in a month. Not so much anymore.
The monthly weighted average data consumed by North American broadband subscribers in fourth quarter 2021 was 536.3 GB, up 11.1% from the same quarter of 2020. This is the first quarter that North American bandwidth consumption surpassed over half a terabyte, according to broadband technology solutions and insights provider OpenVault LLC.
In its Broadband Insights Report, OpenVault said the record usage reflects changing lifestyles and demand. Median usage growth at 19.5% continued to outpace overall average usage growth at 11.1% in the fourth quarter of 2021. This pattern indicates the growth in consumption is widespread across the entire subscriber population and not driven by a smaller group of power users.
"This milestone confirms the linkage between significant growth trajectories in both bandwidth consumption and faster speed adoption and significantly impacts network planning for network operators, with important revenue and customer experience implications," OpenVault said.
Power users who consume 1 terabyte or more per month represented less than 2% of subscribers in 2017. Today, they represent close to 16%, a growth factor of over 750%.
Network operators will have to plan accordingly and ensure they are delivering an acceptable customer experience to all their subscribers, OpenVault said.
"Network operators should explore all options, including examining the role of usage-based billing to better manage this onslaught of accelerating data consumption," the report stated.
Some cable operators have responded to rising usage by increasing their broadband usage caps. In 2016, for instance, Comcast Corp. raised the 300-gigabyte data cap in trial markets to 1 terabyte. Currently, the cap stands at 1.2 TB, though it is not applicable to all markets. Users that exceed 1.2 TB for the second time in a 12-month period are charged $10 for an additional block of 50 GB.
Charter Communications Inc. has no broadband usage cap due to an agreement with the Federal Communications Commission. To win regulatory approval for its 2016 merger with Time Warner Cable Inc. and Bright House Networks LLC, Charter agreed to a seven-year ban on data caps. While Charter in 2020 petitioned the FCC to lift the ban early, Charter withdrew its request in 2021. The earliest the company can impose data caps is May 18, 2023.