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When students go back to school mobile usage goes down


6 min read

For many (especially in the Northern Hemisphere, where about 87% of humans live), September is the “get back to school” (or work) month after a summer break and that also reflects changes in the Internet traffic, particularly in mobile usage.

Looking at our data (you can see many of these insights in Cloudflare Radar) there’s a global trend: mobile traffic lost importance (compared with desktop traffic) in September. The next chart shows there was less percentage of Internet traffic from mobile devices after Monday, September 6, 2021, with a difference of -2% in some days, compared with the previous four weeks (August), and in late September it’s more than -3%.

We can also see that the percentage of desktop traffic increased in September compared to August (we compare here to complete weeks between both months because there are significant differences between weekdays and weekends).

A few of weeks ago, we  saw there are considerable differences between countries regarding the importance of mobile usage. Getting back to work (or office hours) usually means an increase in desktop traffic. In that blog we highlighted the advantages that mobile devices brought to developing countries — many had their first contact with the Internet via a smartphone.

Different calendars to consider

Looking at September 2021, those shifts in Internet trends are more dependent on countries that start their school period at this time of the year and also there are the COVID lockdowns effects (more limited this year) to consider.

In the Northern Hemisphere, many countries start school in September after a break during the summer.

Europe: Back to school brings less time to be mobile

Europe is mostly coherent, and it is easier to check for mobile traffic patterns there. Most countries start school in the first 14 days of September, although Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark start in late August (like some states in the US, for example).

There are some countries in Europe where the mobile traffic went down in September more clearly (the overall picture in the continent is similar to the worldwide situation we described). Poland, Malta, Portugal, Italy, Spain registered a drop in specific periods of a few days in September of more than 5% in the mobile traffic percentage of the total Internet traffic.

Let’s ‘travel’ to Spain, a country where mobile traffic usually represents 45% of Internet traffic (in August this number was higher). Spanish schools officially opened for the new school year on Monday, September 6, and mobile traffic percentage lost more than 5% of its importance in some days of that week, a trend that grew the following week.

Portugal: A public holiday makes mobile usage go up

Portugal shows the same trend as other European countries but as shown in the following chart there was an apparent increase in mobile traffic percentage on October 5, 2021.

That Tuesday, Cloudflare’s Lisbon office was closed; the same happened across the country because it happens to be a public holiday, Republic Day. With most people not having to work in the middle of the week, the percentage of mobile traffic has risen (most visible at 19:00 local time).

Downs and ups

In Italy, we can see the same pattern, and it was also in the second week of school that mobile traffic percentage went down up to 8%. But by the end of September, it began to normalise to the values of the end of August.

The trend of mobile traffic going back to having the same level as late August is more clear in the Netherlands.

Japan, where the school year starts in April, but there’s a summer break through July and August (this year there were changes related to COVID), also shows the same trend of a decrease in mobile traffic that we saw in the Netherlands after school returned on September 6, 2021.

US: Start of the school year influenced by COVID

The United States had an atypical start of the school year because of COVID. Many states pushed the return to school from August to September (New York City started on September 13), and there were several schools with online classes because of the pandemic, but there’s also a drop in mobile traffic percentage, especially after Monday, September 6.

Further north of the continent, Canada (the school year officially started on September 1) saw mobile traffic lose more of its importance after September 6, a trend that grew by the end of the month.

China saw a decrease in mobile traffic percentage right away in the beginning of September (when the school year started), but mobile recovered in the last week of the month.

Russia with different patterns

Then there are countries with trends that go the other way around. Russia saw an increase (and not a decrease like in most countries of the Northern Hemisphere) in mobile traffic percentage a few days before the school year. But news reports show that many schools were closed because of COVID and only started to open by September 20 (the next chart shows precisely a decrease of mobile traffic percentage in that week.

The same trend is observed in Cyprus — the only EU country where mobile traffic percentage increases after the first week of school. That could be related with some school closures in the past few weeks COVID related.

Nigeria: COVID impact

When we go to Africa, Nigeria is just above the Earth’s equator line and is the most populous country on the continent (population: 206 million), and the school year was officially scheduled to start on September 13. But reports from UNICEF show that school reopening was postponed a few weeks because of the pandemic situation in Nigeria.

This seems to go along the same lines as our data shows: mobile traffic percentage grew on the week of September 13 and only started to come down by the end of September and the beginning of October.

Conclusion: September, September, the back to school/work centre

September brings shifts in the Internet traffic trends that seem to have an impact on the way people access the Internet and that goes beyond mobile usage, we can also see that worldwide: the Internet traffic percentage grew significantly — some days more than 10% — in September compared to August (like the graph shows).

It’s not that surprising when you realise that most people on Earth live in the Northern Hemisphere, where August is a summer and vacation month for many - although countries like India have the rainy monsoon season in August and Mid-September before autumn, for example. So September is not only the month wherein some countries students go back to school, but also when many go back to work.

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João Tomé|@emot

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