A widespread increase in mobile data consumption registered by Italy’s four MNOs in 2020 resulted in a temporary decline in download speeds, according to a new study. Average mobile data consumption surged during three peak periods in 2020, starting with the months of March and April, when Italy introduced the first lockdown. Consumption again increased sharply during the months of June, July and August, when Italians went on domestic holidays rather than traveling abroad, and a third increase occurred during the last three months of the year.
In December 2020, users of the networks of all four operators were on average consuming much more mobile data than in January. Vodafone saw the largest increase, 36.8 percent, followed by WindTre and TIM at 27.4 percent and 25.4 percent, respectively, with Iliad coming in at 10.4 percent.
However, the report found that only users on Iliad and WindTre saw a faster average download speed in December compared to January, with a 18.5 percent and 14.3 percent increase, respectively. Vodafone users in December were experiencing the same average download speeds as they did in January, while TIM users in December were seeing a 12.5 percent decline compared to the start of the year.
The vicissitudes of mobile download speeds in Italy reflects the profound impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the mobile telecom industry. The declines in average speeds that occurred during the three surges of usage during 2020 demonstrate the direct effect on the major operators’ networks of unexpected or relatively unaccustomed peaks in consumption. On the other hand, the comparisons between speeds at the beginning and end of the year point toward the future, which will likely see demand remain at high levels.
Even after the pandemic is over, many who worked from home will not return to the office, so we expect that mobile usage levels will be higher than before, driven by Zoom meetings and other personal data use. Foreign travel also may not return to pre-pandemic levels, at least not for a while, and users tend to consume more data when vacationing within their own country. In order to keep up with increased demand, mobile operators in Italy—and in many other markets—will need to improve their networks continuously.
The degree to which the major Italian operators adapted to the changing usage patterns during 2020 is revealed by the end-of-year figures. The only operator that saw an absolute decline in speed compared to January, TIM, experienced less of an increase in traffic in December than did Vodafone, which had the same speeds as in January, which shows that it possible to cope with greater demand, even if not all operators coped equally well. Iliad, which had the least increase in consumption in December, actually showed an increase in speeds. In general, it appears that despite the challenges posed by the changing consumptions patterns introduced by the pandemic, operators can maintain and even increase their networks’ performance.