Global networks take the strain in roller-coaster 2020

Research from network tech provider reveals implications for service providers and internet service delivery chain, with significant growth in video streaming, gaming, video conferencing and DDoS

Despite unprecedented strains placed upon networks – especially from a huge rise in video streaming, gaming and video conferencing – during 2020, the latest edition of the Nokia Deepfield network intelligence report has concluded that contrary to earlier fears of their capability, the networks were made to withstand the internet’s roller-coaster year.

The report examined service provider network traffic and consumption trends in 2020, and overall changes in internet traffic patterns in the past decade and in 2020 – focusing on key application areas such as video streaming, video conferencing, gaming and distributed denial of service (DDoS) security.

The report’s data was gathered from network service providers across Europe and North America from February to September 2020 using the Nokia Deepfield portfolio of network insights and security applications, which use big data analytics to monitor, analyse and understand network traffic and services.

The stake in the ground for the report was the situation in March-April 2020, when after Covid-19 lockdown measures were implemented and, said Nokia, consumer and business behavioural changes transformed the internet’s shape and how people use it virtually overnight. Indeed, the company reported in June 2020 that many networks experienced a year’s worth of traffic growth (30-50%) in just a few weeks.

Fast-forward to September and traffic had stabilised at 20-30% above pre-pandemic levels, with further seasonal growth to come. From February to September, there was a 30% increase in video subscribers, a 23% increase in VPN endpoints in the US, and a 40-50% increase in DDoS traffic.

And yet, the data showed that the networks had coped with the strain – indeed, it suggested the networks were made for such loads. Nokia attributed this to the fact that in the decade prior to the pandemic, the internet had already seen massive and transformative changes – both in service provider networks and in the evolved internet architectures for cloud content delivery. The result, it said, was that the investment during this time meant the networks were in good shape and mostly ready for Covid-19 when it arrived.

That said, Nokia Deepfield said that through its research it had identified a number of key takeaways for service providers to use in planning future network capacity and value-added services for their subscribers. Nokia said that while the networks held up during the biggest demand peaks, data from September 2020 indicated that traffic levels remain elevated even as lockdowns are eased. This meant service providers will need to continue to engineer headroom into the networks for future eventualities.

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Second, it noted that content delivery chains were evolving as demand for streaming video, low-latency cloud gaming and, in particular, video conferencing all placed unprecedented pressure on the internet service delivery chain. Just as content delivery networks (CDNs) grew in the past decade, Nokia expects the same will happen with edge and far edge cloud in the next decade, bringing content and compute closer to users.

Third, the study found that accelerating the roll-out of new technologies – such as 5G and next-gen FTTH – will go a long way towards improving access and connectivity in rural, remote and underserved areas.

The fourth conclusion was that the trends showed that deep insight into network traffic was essential. While Nokia believed the Covid-19 era may prove exceptional in many ways, it added that the likelihood was that it has only accelerated trends in content consumption, production and delivery that were already underway.

Nokia said this meant service providers needed to have real-time, detailed network insights at their disposal – fully correlated with internet traffic insights – to get a holistic perspective on their network, services and consumption.

Lastly, the study was said to have revealed that security has never been more important. Nokia calculated that during the pandemic DDoS traffic increased between 40-50%. It said that, as broadband connectivity is now largely an essential service, protecting network infrastructure and services becomes critical. Agile and cost-effective DDoS detection and automated mitigation are becoming paramount mechanisms to protect service provider infrastructures and services.

“Never has so much demand been put on the networks so suddenly, or so unpredictably,” said Manish Gulyani, general manager and head of Nokia Deepfield, commenting on the findings of the study.

With networks providing the underlying connectivity fabric for business and society to function as we shelter-in-place, there is a greater need than ever for holistic, multi-dimensional insights across networks, services, applications and users.”

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