Why Internet speed has dropped during lockdown

By Jamie McKane for MyBroadband

The global COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdowns implemented by various countries have resulted in an explosion in broadband usage as more people work from home than ever before.

ISPs and infrastructure providers have had to adapt to this rapid shift in broadband traffic.

South African fibre networks, for example, provided customers with up to double their fibre line speeds through their Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

As a result of these lockdowns implemented around the world, the average broadband speed of many countries decreased substantially as networks struggled to meet the demand.

Cable.co.uk has published a report comparing average download speeds during national lockdowns around the world, factoring in the stringency of the lockdowns implemented in each country.

The research combined data from OxCGRT’s stringency index, which tracks government lockdown measures that specifically limit the behaviour of populations, with data from over 364 million broadband speed tests courtesy of M-Lab.

The region where broadband speeds dropped the most during lockdown was Central America, with an average drop of 26.03%.

“Only one of the six countries qualifying in this region experienced a rise (Costa Rica at +0.82%),” Cable.co.uk said.

“Meanwhile, Panama (-48.99%), Guatemala (-14.30%), Honduras (-3.69%), Mexico (-2.35%), and El Salvador (-0.01%) all experienced drops in speed of varying severity.”

South Africa broadband speed drop
South Africa saw a marginal average broadband speed drop of just over 5% during the period from 18 March to 30 June 2020, according to the report.

This was in line with other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, apart from Angola, which saw a significant increase of 117.19%.

It should be noted that a number of African countries were excluded from this comparison due to their lack of inclusion in the OxCGRT stringency index or their insufficient number of tests.

South Africa’s statistics are summarised below:

  • Average broadband speed change: -5.48%
  • Mean lockdown stringency: 57.31
  • Number of speed tests: 7,074,978
  • Average download speed during lockdown: 14.85Mbps
  • Average download speed outside of lockdown: 15.71Mbps
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, 13 of the 14 qualifying countries recorded drops in measured internet speeds during their lockdown periods, with an average decrease of -14.24%.

“Angola bucked the trend in the region, showing a surprising increase of 117.19% during its lockdown period,” the report said.

“Meanwhile, Madagascar (-37.71%), Cote d’Ivoire (-30.77%), Ghana (-24.58%), and Nigeria (-20.84%) experienced the largest drops in measured speeds during their respective lockdowns.”

Cable.co.uk consumer telecoms analyst Dan Howdle said that they measured an average global broadband speed drop of 6.31%, which is a significant departure from the normal trend.

“Our annual global broadband speed tracker has demonstrated global increases of around 20% year-on-year since 2017,” Howdle said.

“For the majority of countries in this study to be moving in the opposite direction during their COVID-19 lockdowns, then, is all the more significant.”

“While it is impossible to attribute direct causality, our study shows a high correlation between lockdown periods around the world and dips in measured internet speeds, with some regions of the world measuring the most substantial drops, and others more or less unchanged,” Howdle said.

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