2020 network upstream growth rate nearly 4x pre-pandemic levels

OpenVault study shows the impact of business hours increases and individual subscriber behaviour on upstream capacity is putting unprecedented strain on network operators

Driven by a massive increase in business hours consumption of applications such as video conferencing, broadband upstream traffic growth during 2020 was found to have been at 350% of historic rates, according to a new OVBI Special Report from OpenVault.

The Pandemic impact on upstream broadband usage and network capacity report from the provider of software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based revenue and network improvement technology and data-driven insights for the broadband industry, investigated how remote work, education, entertainment and personal communication have applied significant pressure on operators’ significantly limited upstream capacity since March 2020.

It also examined options that are available to broadband operators when only a few subscribers disproportionately impact the upstream experience for a much larger group of customers.

“Pandemic lockdowns changed the nature of upstream usage – in all likelihood, for ever,” the report noted. “Continued high levels of remote work and a new embrace of video conferencing for communication needs mean that consumption will pressure the limited upstream capacity of many broadband infrastructures. Moreover, the unique role of the upstream as an enabler of two-way communication makes unfettered performance essential.”

The study found that upstream usage grew by 63% – from 19GB to 31GB – between December 2019 and December 2020, far outpacing the 18% rate of increase for the upstream in each of the two previous years. It also revealed how average upstream traffic during the 9am-5pm timeframe grew from 5.25GB to 10.42GB per subscriber per month as of December 2020 – a 98.5% increase – while per-subscriber monthly downstream consumption during the same period increased by just 51.74%, from 91.90GB to 139.45GB.

Upstream growth in the fourth quarter of 2020 was 24%, a faster rate of increase than the 18% growth rate for all of 2018 or 2019. During peak hours, the top 1% of subscribers accounted for about 30% of upstream usage, and the top 5% of subscribers accounted for more than 50% of upstream consumption. Operators also routinely faced situations in which a single subscriber accounted for more than 80% of available upstream capacity.

Going forward, OpenVault outlined a variety of remedies for relieving pressure on the upstream. These ranged from mid-splits that can cost up to $35,000 per node to a more targeted approach implemented by mid-sized operators in the US.

And given the increasingly common scenario of a growing number of incidents in which upstream traffic exceeded 80% of node capacity, operators were pinpointing bottlenecks, identifying subscribers that were impacting service, and applying automatic capacity management protocols.

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