Following our recent piece on the impact of remote work on WAN and IT infrastructure managers, TeleGeography is taking a closer look at the response of ISPs to the crisis.
Broadband internet and OTT providers across the globe are being forced to make changes to their operations as they handle the massive, pandemic-induced increase in bandwidth demand.
The sharp rise in teleworking, video streaming, and gaming due to full or partial lockdowns has put a strain on networks in many countries.
In Italy, Telecom Italia CEO Luigi Gubitosi told Bloomberg that internet traffic rose 70% over its landline network following a lockdown that closed schools, bars, and restaurants, “with a big contribution from online gaming such as Fortnite.”
Traffic statistics from the Milan internet exchange (MIX) showed a spike in usage following the introduction of the lockdown on Monday, March 9 (beginning of Week 11 on the chart below). Public peering traffic levels rose from a daily peak of around 800Gbps prior to the lockdown to near 1.1Tbps in the days after.
Traffic Jumps Following Lockdown
Other Markets See Similar Trend
Operators in other countries have witnessed similar jumps.
UPC Poland said that during the first week of Poland’s stay-at-home orders, traffic was up almost 40%. (The company noted that its network was running at only three-quarters of its full capacity.)
UPC Poland also said that data transfer from Netflix is up by over one-third and gaming traffic has more than doubled.
Carriers in Spain also saw a 40% increase in traffic on IP networks, plus a 50% rise in mobile voice usage and a 25% jump in the use of mobile data.
Carriers in Spain saw a 40% increase in traffic on IP networks, plus a 50% rise in mobile voice usage and a 25% jump in the use of mobile data.
According to Spanish telcos, traffic from instant messaging tools like WhatsApp increased fivefold in a matter of days. Telcos are calling on users to optimize traffic at peak times and avoid bandwidth-hungry applications until off-peak hours.
Voice Usage Up 25%
Verizon’s Increased Usage
|Type of Data||Week-over-Week Increase|
|Total voice usage||25%|
|Wireless voice usage||10%|
In the U.S., Verizon says Americans are also turning to their phones more.
Voice usage is up 25% overall, driven in part by a surge in conference calls between home workers. Meanwhile, cellular networks are seeing a 10% increase, with calls lasting an average of 15% longer.
Daily Usage Affected
Beyond a surge in traffic, usage patterns are changing.
A recent study by Nokia looked at traffic before and after the introduction of lockdowns. It found that Netflix traffic at 9 a.m. was up almost 100% on the first day of lockdown compared to the same time a week earlier. Meanwhile, the variation in weekday peak early evening usage was below 20%. There was a sharp rise between 54% and 75% in peak evening usage on weekends, likely due to the closure of bars and restaurants.
A recent study by Nokia looked at traffic before and after the introduction of lockdowns. It found that Netflix traffic at 9 a.m. was up almost 100% on the first day of lockdown compared to the same time a week earlier.
In Europe, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, and Facebook have responded by cutting video quality to lighten the load on the networks. Netflix estimated that the move would result in a 25% reduction in the bandwidth used by its streaming service.
Additionally, Disney has said it will lower the bit rate of its new Disney+ streaming service by at least 25%. They'll also delay the launch of their new offer in France from March 24 to April 7 following a request from the country’s government.
While in many markets there has been a surge in fixed traffic, in countries where mobile networks carry the bulk of data, infrastructure is straining.
Regulators in India are studying a request from operators for a temporary increase to their frequency allocations to help cope with growing demand. The Cellular Operators Association of India has asked the Department of Transport for additional spectrum for both access and backhaul networks.
In other markets, temporary spectrum is already being granted.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has granted Verizon’s request for special temporary authority to use additional spectrum to meet increased customer demand for mobile broadband access during the pandemic.
Communications Helping to Stop the Spread
One way that communications technology has helped stem the spread of the virus is via the use of mobile user location data. In both China and South Korea, authorities were able to identify and track the contacts of those who tested positive for COVID-19 to quickly isolate any who had been infected.
Some operators in Europe are also sharing anonymous user location data to monitor whether lockdown restrictions are being adhered to.
In China, 5G-powered robots are being used in a number of airports and shopping malls to monitor people’s body temperatures and ensure that face masks are being worn. The machines, from Guangzhou Gosuncn Robot Company, free up human workers and reduce the likelihood of contamination from an infected member of the public.
Pete Bell is a Research Analyst for TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database and also contributes to the daily CommsUpdate newsletter. He has a particular interest in wireless broadband and was responsible for TeleGeography’s 4G Research Service until it was integrated into GlobalComms.