Internet traffic spikes under “stay at home”; Move to cloud accelerates

With worldwide coronavirus induced “stay at home/shelter in place” orders, almost everyone that has high speed internet at home is using a lot more bandwidth for video conferences and streaming.  How is the Internet holding up against the huge increase in data/video traffic?  We focus this article on U.S. Internet traffic since the stay at home orders went into effect in late March.


Sidebar:  North America has only 7.6% of world’s Internet users:

Percentage of Internet users by continent/region.


According to Eric Savitz of Barron’s, the U.S. networks are handling the traffic spikes without any major hiccups. In a call this past week with reporters, Comcast, the largest U.S. internet service provider, said that its network is working well, with tests done 700,000 times a day through customer modems showing average speeds running 110% to 115% of contracted rates. Overall peak traffic is up 32% on the network, with some areas up 60%, in particular around Seattle and the San Francisco Bay area, where lockdowns were put in place before they were in most of the rest of the country. In both Seattle and San Francisco, peak traffic volumes are plateauing, suggesting a new normal.

While Comcast said its peak internet traffic has increased 32 percent since the start of March, total traffic remains within the overall capacity its network. The increase in people working at home has shifted the downstream peak to earlier in the evening, while upload traffic is growing during the day in most cities.  Tony Werner, head of technology at Comcast Cable, says it has a long-term strategy of adding network capacity 12 to 18 months ahead of expected peaks. He says that approach has given Comcast the ability to smoothly absorb the added traffic. The company hasn’t requested that video providers or anyone else limit their traffic.

AT&T, the second largest U.S. internet service provider, likewise asserts that its network is performing “very well” during the pandemic. This past Wednesday, it said, core traffic, including business, home broadband, and wireless, was up 18% from the same day last month. Wireless voice minutes were up 41%, versus the average Wednesday; consumer home voice minutes rose 57%, and WiFi calling was up 105%.

Over the past three weeks, the company has seen new usage patterns on its mobile network, with voice calls up 33% and instant messaging up 63%, while web browsing is down 5% and email is off 18%.

Verizon also says its network is handling the traffic well. One telling stat: The carrier says that mobile handoffs, the shifting of sessions from one cell site to another as users move around, is down 53% in the New York metro area, and 29% nationally; no one is going anywhere.  More on Verizon’s COVID-19 initiatives here.

In the United States prior to coronavirus, total home internet traffic averaged about 15% on weekdays. But it started growing in mid March, and by late March it had reached about 35%, clearly connected to all the working and learning from home due to stay-at-home orders.

“The data suggests remote working will remain elevated in the U.S. for a prolonged period of time,” wrote analysts from Cowen analysts.

Craig Moffett of MoffetNathanson said “The cable companies are simply digital infrastructure providers. They are agnostic about how you can get your video content. And the broadband business is going to be just fine.”

“Our broadband connections are becoming our lifelines – figuratively and literally: we are using them to get news, connect to our work environments (now all virtual), and for entertainment too,” wrote Craig Labovitz, CTO for Nokia’s Deepfield portfolio, in a blog post.


Enterprise IT Accelerates Move to Cloud:

One takeaway from this extended, forced stay at home period is that, more than ever, corporate IT (think enterprise computing and storage) is moving to the cloud.  We’ve previously reported on this mega-trend in an IEEE techblog post noting the delay in 5G roll-outs.  In particular:

Now the new (5G) technology faces an unprecedented slow down to launch and expand pilot deployments.  Why? It’s because of the stay at home/shelter in place orders all over the world.  Non essential business’ are closed and manufacturing plants have been idled.  Also, why do you need a mobile network if you’re at home 95% of the time?

One reason to deploy 5G is to off load data (especially video) traffic on congested 4G-LTE  networks. But just like the physical roads and highways, those 4G networks have experienced less traffic since the virus took hold.  People confined to their homes need wired broadband and Wi-Fi, NOT 4G and 5G mobile access.

David Readerman of Endurance Capital Partners, a San Francisco, CA based tech hedge fund told Barron’s: “What’s certainly being reinforced right now, is that cloud-based information-technology architecture is providing agility and resiliency for companies to operate dispersed workforces.”

Readerman says the jury is out on whether there’s a lasting impact on how we work, but he adds that contingency planning now requires the ability to work remotely for extended periods.

On March 27th, the Wall Street Journal reported:

Cloud-computing providers are emerging as among the few corporate winners in the coronavirus pandemic as office and store closures across the U.S. have pushed more activity online.

The remote data storage and processing services provided by Inc., Microsoft Corp., Google and others have become the essential link for many people to remain connected with work and families, or just to unwind.

The hardware and software infrastructure those tech giants and others provide, commonly referred to as the cloud, underpins the operation of businesses that have become particularly popular during the virus outbreak, such as workplace collaboration software provider Slack, streaming video service company Netflix Inc. and online video game maker Epic Games Inc.

Demand has been so strong that Microsoft has told some customers its Azure cloud is running up against limits in parts of Australia.

“Due to increased usage of Azure, some regions have limited capacity,” the software giant said, adding it had, in some instances, placed restrictions on new cloud-based resources, according to a customer notice seen by The Wall Street Journal.

A Microsoft spokesman said the company was “actively monitoring performance and usage trends” to support customers and growth demands. “At the same time,” he said, “these are unprecedented times and we’re also taking proactive steps to plan for these high-usage periods.”

“If we think of the cloud as utility, it’s hard to imagine any other public utility that could sustain a 50% increase in utilization—whether that’s electric or water or sewage system—and not fall over,” Matthew Prince, chief executive of cloud-services provider Cloudflare Inc. said in an interview. “The fact that the cloud is holding up as well as it has is one of the real bright spots of this crisis.”

The migration to the cloud has been happening for about a decade as companies have opted to forgo costly investments into in-house IT infrastructure and instead rent processing hardware and software from the likes of Amazon or Microsoft, paying as they go for storage and data processing features. The trends have made cloud-computing one of the most contested battlefields among business IT providers.

“If you look at Amazon or Azure and how much infrastructure usage increased over the past two weeks, it would probably blow your mind how much capacity they’ve had to spin up to keep the world operating,” said Dave McJannet, HashiCorp Inc., which provides tools for both cloud and traditional servers. “Moments like this accelerate the move to the cloud.”

In a message to rally employees, Andy Jassy, head of the Amazon’s Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud division, urged them to “think about all of the AWS customers carrying extra load right now because of all of the people at home.”

Brad Schick, chief executive of Seattle-based Skytap Inc., which works with companies to move existing IT systems to the cloud, has seen a 20% jump in use of its services in the past month. “A lot of the growth is driven by increased usage of the cloud to deal with the coronavirus.”

For many companies, one of the attractions of cloud services is they can quickly rent more processing horsepower and storage when it is needed, but can scale back during less busy periods. That flexibility also is helping drive cloud-uptake during the coronavirus outbreak, said Nikesh Parekh, CEO and cofounder of Seattle-based Suplari Inc., which helps companies manage their spending with outside vendors such as cloud services.

“We are starting to see CFOs worry about their cash positions and looking for ways to reduce spending in a world where revenue is going to decline dramatically over the next quarter or two,” he said. “That will accelerate the move from traditional suppliers to the cloud.”

Dan Ives of Wedbush opines that the coronavirus pandemic is a “key turning point” around deploying cloud-driven and remote-learning environments.  As a majority of Americans are working or learning from home amid federal social distancing measures, Ives’ projections of moving 55% of workloads to the cloud by 2022 from 33% “now look conservative as these targets could be reached a full year ahead of expectations given this pace,” he said. He also expects that $1 trillion will be spent on cloud services over the next decade, benefiting companies such as Microsoft and Amazon.



4 thoughts on “Internet traffic spikes under “stay at home”; Move to cloud accelerates

  1. Nice overview of what is going on with traffic demand on broadband and the cloud. The other aspect about this that is holding up amazingly well is the upstream portion of the cable networks, which, Josh Barstow of OpenVault told me yesterday, is seeing as much as a 100% increase over pre-shutdown. OpenVault has probes that measure traffic in cable television, DOSCIS data networks.

  2. What about developing countries where most access the Internet via mobile connections?


    Most of the 4bn or so people who use the internet today do so via mobile connections rather than land-lines. As countries such as India, South Africa and those in South-East Asia start staying at home they are turning to their phones for entertainment, for communication and for work. With little fixed-line capacity to fall back on, the load on local mobile networks is immense.

    A mobile-data connection runs as a radio signal from a phone to the local base-station. Thence it links up, via optical fibre or a microwave connection, with the network’s core, which is connected to the wider internet. If too many people try to connect simultaneously to the same base station, that station will be overwhelmed, causing calls to drop, data-transfer speeds to slow and tempers to rise.

    Even some rich countries are suffering in this regard. According to James Barford of Enders Analysis, a British research firm, Telefónica Spain has seen a 30% surge in data traffic and Telecom Italia reports a 10% rise. Download speeds in Italy have also declined, according to OpenSignal, a network-analytics firm.

    Elsewhere, things are worse still. Some networks have seen internet use rise by as much as 80% says Bhaskar Gorti of Nokia, which makes networking equipment and helps operators manage their systems. Mobile networks are constantly being upgraded, and have assumptions of double-digit growth baked into them. But those assumptions are for growth over the course of months or years, not days.

    So far, network operators have proved equal to the task. But things could deteriorate. Routine maintenance will suffer as engineers go off sick or are forced to self-isolate. There will be less capacity for emergency maintenance. Far-off base stations will become harder to reach. And on top of all this, demands on networks will probably rise. More people will discover video chatting. As television broadcasters struggle to provide fresh entertainment, people will turn to streaming in ever greater numbers. All of these things will add to congestion. The longer that stay-at-home orders remain in place, the more likely it is that some networks will fall over.

    Mobile operators and regulators are not standing around waiting for such failures, though. In several countries, including Spain, mobile operators have asked users to reduce their data consumption. Others are trying novel ideas. Kenya has fast-tracked Google’s Loon project, which will provide 4g signals from high-altitude balloons. In India, where data consumption is up 30% and speeds down 20%, operators are contemplating joining forces, to ease each other’s peaks. European and other regulators have asked the big streaming services—Netflix, Amazon, YouTube—to reduce the quality of their videos, in a bid to free up capacity. America has granted its networks additional radio spectrum on a temporary basis, and several other countries are in the process of doing the same.

    Around a third of the planet’s inhabitants are now stuck at home. That is bad enough—for morale, for businesses and for countries’ economies. For those people to lose in addition what is, for many of them, their only connection to the wider world just makes it worse.

  3. AT&T FirstNet Holding Up Very Well during Pandemic:

    Although internet use is spiking overall as millions of Americans work, learn and play from home, AT&T reports that FirstNet — the high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network it’s building for use by first responders — is performing well.

    More than 1.2 million first responders and other emergency response workers have connectivity, an AT&T spokesperson, told GCN. Additionally, more than 11,000 public-safety agencies and organizations nationwide have subscribed to the network, which gives responders preemption across voice and data with multiple priority levels that they can apportion as needed, too.

    To ensure that things run smoothly, FirstNet liaisons are embedded at state and federal emergency operations centers. When connectivity needs a boost, FirstNet users have access to 76 deployable cell sites that the FirstNet Response Operations Group put in place. The team comprises former first responders who manage the program with the National Incident Management System and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Response Framework, according to the company’s website.

    On April 2, AT&T reported that it currently has 14 portable cell sites in operation and has deployed more than 28 to bolster coverage for FirstNet customers as needed. Company CEO Jeff McElfresh said in a video update that AT&T had activated more than 1,000 FirstNet devices and added 16 emergency circuits at one large medical campus in California and rolled portable cell sites to remote military bases. A cell tower on wheels is supporting the Navy ship Mercy in Los Angeles.

    The company said it is adapting and adding capacity to address increases in traffic resulting from remote workers and students. Additionally, there have been fewer spikes in wireless usage, officials said, as more people stay home. Overall, on April 1, core network traffic was up 18% compared to March 1, officials said.

    Other companies are also working to keep first responders communicating. For instance, the Verizon Response Team has deployed mobile cell sites and Wi-Fi- hotspots to boost network performance. It is working with the Navy to deliver connectivity for the USNS Comfort docked in New York and the Los Angeles Unified School District to provide internet connectivity for students who lack access at home.

    T-Mobile saw an increase of 26% in texting, a 77% bump in MMS and a 17% increase in call times.

    Comscore’s Total Home Panel data shows that average in-home data usage was up 18% between March 1 and 17, compared to the same period in 2019. The most notable device-level increases are for mobile phones, smart speakers, connected televisions and streaming boxes or sticks.

    As quarantine and shelter-in-place orders increase and persist, network usage will likely increase.

    On April 2, the Federal Communications Commission announced a $200 million emergency COVID-19 Telehealth Program to implement the coronavirus response CARES Act to ensure access to connected care services and devices. The COVID-19 Telehealth Program will help eligible health care providers purchase telecommunications and information services and devices to support remote medical treatment during the coronavirus pandemic.

    On March 20, the FCC granted temporary access to more wireless spectrum to AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and US Cellular to help with the increased demand. A week before, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai asked broadband providers to take the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, which includes opening Wi-Fi hotpots to any American who needs them.

  4. Networks could see home internet traffic remain high after crisis

    Zscaler, a company that has built a cloud platform operating in 150 data centers across the world, has found that as COVID-19 spreads, traffic patterns shift from employees predominantly being in the office, to being remote.

    Before the COVID-19 outbreak, average remote employee traffic across a typical large organization was 10% during weekdays, wrote Zscaler President and CTO Amit Sinha, in a blog. These patterns were broadly similar across continents with country-level variations consistent with their local work from home culture.

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