Coronavirus: How the internet is coping with all your extra traffic

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The global COVID-19 pandemic is forcing more employees to work from home everyday, and with each of us connecting to our household's router to carry out record numbers of Zoom calls , the pressure on broadband networks to support unprecedented demand for connectivity is building up.
Toss in daily WhatsApp calls to check in on relatives, and streaming and gaming by kids unexpectedly at home from school, and it is easy to see that network providers are facing, in most countries, a growing conundrum. Ensuring reliable access to connectivity, and for all users – including those who struggle to pay their bills – all the while supporting much busier online traffic than usual, might require some creative solutions from operators.
CXO ZDNet's top enterprise CEOs of the 2010s Executive dies, taking investor cryptocurrency with him. Now they want the body exhumed What is a CIO? Everything you need to know about the Chief Information Officer explained How machine learning is predicting employee turnover (ZDNet YouTube) Ring CEO defends police partnerships (CNET) How to overcome procrastination: A CXO guide (TechRepublic) A couple of weeks ago, five of Spain's major operators including Orange and Vodafone signed a letter warning that their networks could soon collapse due to a 40% spike in traffic through IP networks and 50% jump in voice calls, and urging users to use the internet more responsibly. In the same vein, Netflix has agreed to reduce its streaming bit rates across Europe to help keep internet traffic under control during the pandemic, as have Amazon, Apple TV+, Disney+ and Facebook.
The European Commissioner Thierry Breton even started a #SwitchToStandard , to recommend using lower definitions when HD is not necessary in order to lower the pressure across networks.
In the UK, however, the tone is more reassuring. Rather than asking customers to refrain from using internet services, network providers have insisted that their infrastructure is capable of supporting the surge in demand. ISPA-UK, the organization that represents internet service providers, said that networks were already built for peak usage in the evenings, when users come back home and stream video and other content. The applications in demand outside of work, such as for gaming, social media scrolling and streaming, are much more data-intensive than work tools, which means that broadband networks should be prepared to cope with additional WFH use.
For example, while streaming gameplay through Twitch requires 3 to 6 Mbps, workers will would only need 1.5 Mbps to join a meeting with Zoom. What's more, the surge in traffic from workers now confined to their homes is likely to happen during office hours, which are typically ten times quieter than evening peaks – and can therefore accommodate a lot more demand.
James Barford, telecoms analyst at Enders Analysis, told ZDNet: "What has mostly happened so far is an increase in broadband usage during the day. So there are a lot more gigabytes going over the network, but they are doing so when the network wasn't busy, which makes it broadly manageable. I'm fairly confident that providers will be able to deal with this trend."
Network operators in the UK have reported significant jumps in traffic. Virgin has seen upstream traffic increase by up to 95% during daytime hours this week, while BT's chief technology and information officer Howard Watson said that weekday daytime demand was up 30-60% . Watson, however, maintained that daytime traffic peaked at 7.5Tb/s – not even half the record 17.5Tb/s that evening peaks have reached, and which he said the network can handle.
Vodafone is striking a similar tone. A spokesperson told ZDNet: "Our networks remain strong. We've enough headroom to meet growing demand and to keep the UK connected. We are seeing around a 30% increase in internet traffic over our fixed and mobile networks. Also, we've seen telephony traffic grow by more than 25% and mobile voice traffic increase by 42%."
It is worth noting that last week, Vodafone added extra capacity to its core fixed, broadband and mobile networks to cope with the surge in demand. The move is not, of course, unprecedented; the company's CEO Nick Jeffrey said that big spikes in data usage have been successfully supported in the past, with the latest example happening only last Christmas, when live streaming of football generated record levels of traffic.
Enders' analyst Barford said that although increasing capacity is nothing new for broadband providers, the speed at which they are required to do so in the face of a fast-spreading virus is a new challenge. "Providers have never seen anything like this before," he said. "They know how to increase capacity because capacity has been growing 30-40% a year over the past ten years. But growing 30-40% a month will be more challenging."
It is difficult to predict how consumption trends will change in the next few weeks, and therefore how network providers can prepare for t...