US networks weather unprecedented traffic during lockdown

“The networks were made for this,” says network technology provider as it shows how US networks have coped with added loads since the stay-at-home order

Since the imposition of Covid-19 lockdown orders, US network providers have coped with an unprecedented rise in traffic and have showed the importance of all networks, enterprise and residential, as a vital infrastructure for a society, says the latest network traffic report from Nokia.

The study, Network traffic insights in the time of Covid-19: June 4 update, measured US network performance from 9 February to 24 May 2020, covering the period when millions of people in the US were under stay-at-home directives, with home working placing unparalleled extra loads on infrastructures. Such were the fears globally that some of the world’s largest operators publicly expressed their concern at what they were about to face.

On 12 March, Spain’s leading communications operators – Telefónica’s Movistar, Orange, Vodafone, Grupo Masmóvil and Grupo Euskaltel – revealed that both fixed and mobile telecommunications networks had experienced what they called a traffic explosion because of the spread of Covid-19 in the country and the measures taken to make sure the virus was contained.

Even though Spain was, and still is, a European leader in terms of fibre optic infrastructure and has one of the continent’s best mobile networks, the operators appealed to users for rational and responsible use of networks, so that providers and users alike could enjoy a communications ecosystem that was sustainable over time – especially in the face of increased home working and remote schooling that may last several weeks.

Nokia’s research found that since March, peak network traffic has normalised at 25-30% above pre-pandemic levels and that aggregate traffic volumes continue to be over 25% above pre-pandemic levels.

Looking at how networks handled the most demanding usage times for traffic peaks, which for wireline networks were dominated by video traffic, Nokia found that peak traffic levels exceeded their pre-pandemic levels by 30% or more during the weekend of 22-23 March. They then stabilised in the range of 20-30% above the levels recorded in the first week of February 2020.

Aggregate traffic represents overall traffic volumes exchanged over the network, both upstream and downstream, and gives a clear indication of the massive uptick in videoconferencing over this time, which is an application that typifies upstream traffic flow. Compared with peak traffic, in addition to the 25% increase in volumes since the lockdowns started, the research showed no downward trend in levels.

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Nokia said this stabilisation indicated prolonged network use throughout the day, both during weekdays and at weekends. It is perhaps no coincidence that Zoom recently reported massive increases in revenues generated during its first quarter.

Nokia’s research revealed that many US Tier-1 service providers said their quarterly or yearly capacity upgrades happened in a matter of a few weeks and that customer experiences for entertainment occurred without interruption or service degradation. This, said Nokia, was a testimony to service providers’ ability to address these peak traffic demands and overall traffic volumes.

Nokia added that the temporary measures introduced by video service providers such as Netflix and YouTube now seemed to be waning, and average bitrates for these services were returning to pre-pandemic levels. The return to normal also saw more traffic for some of these video services sourced from on-net network caches, as opposed to being delivered from external CDNs, across peering and transit links.

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