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Coronavirus didn't hurt UK broadband speeds in March. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, on the other hand...

Virgin Media users' download speeds did dip a bit, though

The surge of furloughed and remote workers caused by the recent COVID-19 lockdown had only a modest impact on UK broadband speeds, claims a new report (PDF) from Ofcom.

On average, download speeds declined by just 2 per cent in the week immediately following the imposition of the UK-wide lockdown on 23 March, when compared to the week ending March 8.

There is, however, significant variation between providers, with some faring better than others.

The biggest fall was seen by users of Virgin Media, who saw speeds drop by around 10 per cent. Conversely, users of the BT-owned EE broadband saw speeds increase (very) slightly.

Upload speeds saw a similar drop of 1 per cent, although there was little variation between providers here. The biggest drops were experienced by users of EE and Virgin Media, who saw falls of roughly 2 per cent.

Keeping with this trend, Ofcom reports a small 2 per cent increase on average, with modest differences between broadband providers. Users of Virgin Media saw their pings spike by as much as 3.8 per cent, while latency increased by just 0.1 per cent on EE.

On March 20, three days before the lockdown was formally imposed, BT reported that weekday traffic on its network was up between 35 and 60 per cent.

Virgin Media reported similar numbers on March 23, following the closure of UK schools, with daytime download traffic up 90 per cent.

Ofcom attributes the resiliency shown by broadband providers to their ability to scale with demand.

By the halfway point of March, providers likely knew that a lockdown was coming, due to the public remarks of senior politicians, and the fact that stay-at-home orders had already been issued in nearby countries, like Italy, Ireland, and Spain.

In contrast, broadband performance can suffer when traffic unexpectedly surges, and providers are unable to implement contingencies.

This is beautifully illustrated by the data from March 10, when Infinity Ward released a mammoth 50GB patch for its popular Call of Duty: Modern Warfare first-person shooter game, causing download speeds to plunge by as much as 14 per cent on some providers, most notably KCOM. ®

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