As lockdown winds down, we are updating our analysis of what the network usage data says about our changed work patterns.

Australia’s telecommunications networks held up well during the lockdown period because they were already configured to deal with high levels of peak demand – to cope with the video-streaming and gamers. 

During the lockdown, download traffic on the NBN during business hours jumped by 26% compared to the end of February before lockdown commenced.  But that was still about 10% below the pre-COVID download peak during the busy evening hours (7pm to midnight) when we are all watching  Netflix, Stan etc.  

The changes in upchannel use probably tell us more about changed work patterns.  Before COVID, as most of us were ‘downloaders’, our upchannel use was limited to sending small data packets of instructions to the video streaming services about what we wanted to watch, some emails from our home account and some work emails when we worked sporadically from home.   The heavy users of the upchannel were gamers and Youtube uploaders.

The diagram below shows the change in upchannel traffic on the NBN over the course of a day. Key points:

  • Pre-COVID, as the gamers came on stream, upchannel use steadily climbed in the early afternoon and peaked late at night, long after download levels dropped sharply as the rest of us when to bed. 
  • During lockdown, upchannel traffic during business hours grew by 63% compared to 26% for downchannel traffic, showing the heavy use of Zoom etc.  But this increased business hour upchannel usage was still about the same as pre-COVID late night peak driven by the gamers.
  • While the gamers still came onstream later in the day during lockdown, the total upchannel usage in the early evening (up to 7pm) continued to climb above pre-COVID use (by 29%).  This seems to confirm more flexibility in working patterns as WFH workers slice up their day between work and personal/family time over the course of the day.  
  • As most of us head back into the office, downloading on the NBN during work hours has fallen back to only 10% above pre-COVID use.  But strikingly, upchannel usage is plateauing at levels way above pre-COVID.  Upchannel use during business hours is still 56% higher, suggesting that video conferencing is till a big part of worklife even back in the office. More surprisingly, upchannel use in the early evening is still 27% up on pre-COVID, suggesting that we are still working more flexibly from home.  While that has its benefits, it also means that the pre-COVID evening downtime when you were downloading for relaxation now sees many of us working. 

This paper was prepared as background reading for the Australian Financial Review’s webinar on a Distributed Workforce on Tuesday 21 July.

Read more: How the gaming nerds enable COVID WFH