Vodafone’s internet usage has surged by up to 50% in some European countries as consumers shift to working at home and turn to services such as Netflix because the coronavirus is keeping families indoors.
The increase in data comes from a wide range of activities, from children accessing educational material online, playing digital games and watching films and TV on multiple devices, as well as people working from home.
The world’s second largest mobile operator has almost 120 million customers in a dozen countries in Europe. It did not specify which countries have had the biggest spikes in data usage but it is likely to include Spain, Italy and France, where government shutdowns have kept the public indoors for an extended period.
Vodafone has 18 million customers in the UK, where data usage is already up 30% and is likely to rise as the government’s strategy follows that of its European neighbours. The group said in the UK data usage increases are starting much earlier in the day, from lunchtime, reflecting the switch to working from home. The peak of usage remains 6pm to 8pm.
“Covid-19 is already having a significant impact on our services and placing a greater demand on our network,” the company said. “We should expect this trend of data growth to continue and we have already seen data traffic increase by 50% in some markets.”
Virgin Media has given almost three million of its mobile customers 10MB of free data as a gesture acknowledging they will be using their phones more as the country goes into lockdown.
The company, which has more than five million broadband customers, has also moved to scrap the 20MB usage cap that a few tens of thousands of broadband customers, mostly older customers on historic contracts, are still on to allow them to freely keep using the internet.
Wurl, a company that delivers video and advertising to connected TVs, estimates the amount of time people spent streaming rose more than 20% globally last weekend. In some countries, such as Austria and Spain, where telecoms companies have struggled with usage demands, there were 40%-plus increases in time spent streaming.
Nick Read, the chief executive of Vodafone, revealed the data usage figures as part of a five-point plan the company was implementing to support communities and governments as the virus spreads.
It is increasing capacity across its networks, such as offering extra capacity to hospitals and GPs, for functions such as videoconferencing and better connectivity for healthcare workers.
The company is also offering governments the ability to disseminate information to the public via text alerts, which can also be targeted to residents in areas particularly affected by the virus.
“Vodafone can play a critical role in supporting society during this unprecedented time,” Read said. “We will strive to ensure that people stay connected to their family and friends, businesses can continue to run using remote working, our health services get all the support we can deliver and students can continue their education virtually.”