Coronavirus: Teleworking drives new application usage growth for Comcast

Largest network operator in US issues assurance that huge shift in usage patterns and extra demands on home networks are well within infrastructure’s capability

Like other major operators around the world, leading US cable network provider Comcast is facing what it calls unmatched traffic and applications usage on the home networks that it supports but has, like its peers, emphasised that its infrastructure can cope with demand.

Comcast claims to operate the largest internet network in the US, with assets ranging from fibre networks to home W-Fi. It says that since the outbreak of Covid-19, it has seen an unprecedented shift in network usage, in particular from applications such as video streaming, linear TV, gaming, IP-based voice applications, video conferencing and virtual private networks.

Looking at the shifting patterns of network usage caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, Comcast has revealed that the prime-time period on the network is now dramatically different from the situation on 1 March 2020. Since that date, peak traffic has risen by 32% overall and by 60% in some areas, but is still within the capacity of the network.

The downstream peak time has moved from 9pm to between 7pm and 8pm, while the upstream peak has moved from 9pm – typically due to online gaming applications – to between 8am and 6pm in most US cites, reflecting the massive increase in teleworking. Comcast said sharp early traffic increases in locations such as Seattle and San Francisco were beginning to plateau.

However, the operator stressed that it has engineered its network for peak capacity to handle the new spikes and shifts in usage patterns and that it has regularly invested in its network and has thousands of engineers nationally and locally who work to add capacity where needed in order to maintain the speeds and support the capacity that customers need while they are working, learning and connecting from home.

Revealing the details of individual use cases, Comcast said that as the world effectively works from home, Wi-Fi is the wireless workhorse keeping people connected. It added that work from home is driving new application usage growth. Weekday usage is rising, driven primarily by VoIP, video conferencing and, reflecting global trends, virtual private networks (VPNs) as more people move to work and learn from home.

VoIP and video conferencing are up 212% compared with the beginning of March, while VPN traffic has risen by 40%. Also, the move from cellular to the IP network is revealed by Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile business seeing a 10% decline in LTE data usage since 1 March, while at the same time witnessing a 24% increase in mobile data usage over Wi-Fi.

Highlighting the stresses that entertainment could place on networks, Comcast’s research found that evening and weekend usage has grown, with customers significantly increasing the amount of time spent watching television and gaming. On average, peak downstream traffic continues to be in the evenings and weekends across the US, and mostly outside of normal office hours.

The research showed a 38% increase in streaming and online video consumption, and a 50% rise in gaming downloads generally and 80% during new releases. Online linear video consumption was found to have increased by four hours to 64 hours a week, with video-on-demand hitting record highs, jumping 25% compared with 1 March.

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