man on mobile

The controversial and made-for-media nature of the 2020 presidential election clearly has driven broadband consumption and mobile app usage to new heights, according to broadband usage data from OpenVault and 2020 election mobile news app usage data from Flurry.

On election day, OpenVault reported a 7% increase in usage per subscriber in the 5 PM to 8 PM CT period compared to the average of the previous four Tuesdays. There was a 10% average increase in the 7 PM CT hour compared to the previous nine Tuesdays. Usage by cord cutters increased 16.4%, which is more than double the rate of increase for subscribers overall.

The Flurry 2020 election mobile news app usage analysis compared app usage during the 2020 and 2016 campaigns and found that app usage this year was far greater this year than during 2016. It also found that even the dramatic events of this year (such as the two debates and the president’s COVID-19 hospitalization) were dwarfed by the traffic measured on Nov. 4 as people sought to make sense of the massive and fluid vote.

The firm compared mobile app usage during key events with average usage levels for 2016 and 2020, and found that in almost all cases, events during this election cycle generated a greater increase in app usage.

An exception was the 2020 Democratic convention, which drove 8% more app usage than on an average day — the same increase seen for the 2016 Democratic convention.

The other exception was what the firm called the second debate of 2020, which saw only a 9% increase over average usage, compared to a 10% increase over average usage in 2016. However, the comparison is misleading because it is between a debate (2016) and dueling town halls (2020).

The bottom line is that people wanted news in 2016 – but wanted more this year.

“This year’s elections have driven record-breaking engagement compared to both last year and the 2016 Presidential Election,” Flurry analyst Estelle Danilo wrote in a blog post about the 2020 election mobile news app usage research. “Additionally, this year’s tight race between the two candidates — along with heightened emotions and delayed election results — have amplified and extended the surge in election news consumption.”

The swings of the election point to the needle that must be threaded by engineers, data scientists and others who design telecommunications networks. On one hand, overdesigning networks is not cost effective. On the other, networks must have enough capacity to support spikes in usage. These spikes in some cases are predictable – a presidential election, for instance – and in others not. These emergencies will come, but it is impossible to know when.

The COVID-19 pandemic introduced a new type of wild card: A significant long-term change in demand that planners could not anticipate and a change in the very way in which networks are used. The impact of COVID-19 goes beyond pure volume. Work from home (WFA), remote learning and telehealth mean that usage is far more symmetrical in nature.

In August, OpenVault Broadband Insights found that upstream traffic rose 5.3% between the ends of the first and the second quarters of the year. The firm also found that second-quarter traffic was up 56% compared to the year-ago quarter.

Joan Engebretson contributed to this report.

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