Can you imagine sheltering in place without broadband? In the wake of COVID-19, broadband access has never been more important for consumers. It allows many people to work and study from their homes and maintain a semblance of normal life. For some, it is a literal lifeline, connecting patients to health professionals via telemedicine. And for most, it allows us to stay connected to loved ones and entertained by everything from Zoom happy hours to Netflix’s Tiger King. These uses place increased demand on our networks, but particularly on upload — making high-quality fiber broadband networks crucial.
Asymmetrical, one-way applications previously dominated at-home bandwidth. This downstream activity included everything from streaming Spotify and Netflix to scrolling Facebook to downloading a Word document from an email. But with our recently increased reliance on two-way communications like video streaming, symmetrical uploads and downloads are much more prevalent.
A recent study from the Fiber Broadband Association and RVA, LLC shows that the pandemic has dramatically increased use of advanced applications that require both strong upload and download capacity. They found that 46% of respondents used video conferencing for staying in touch with family, 24% for business, and 16% for educational purposes. Among those working remotely, 68% are using video conferencing. Additionally, video use for telemedicine is up 500% from last year, with 12% of respondents have used video conferencing for healthcare.
Video conferencing and other two-directional technologies require strong upload capabilities. Virginia-based fiber broadband provider LUMOS Networks, for instance, reports a 47% increase in upload traffic. And upload is where we have seen some older networks struggle. Last-mile networks still have a lot of asymmetric technologies and the upstream gives out first. Wireless and satellite cannot keep up and some cable networks can only manage one or two megabits of upstream.
For those with low-quality broadband, this can mean video conferencing troubles and lag times for uploading to the cloud, resulting in lowered productivity. In the same recent study from the Fiber Broadband Association, researchers found that people with lower-performing broadband connections are rationing Internet use inside the home. Among users with the slowest bandwidth and highest latency, 49% reported doing things like asking family members to curtail Internet use during work video conference calls. They also reported lost time waiting for apps, both upstream and downstream.
The Internet did not “break” because of the pandemic, but it has shown us some weaknesses in our networks. We need to meet our new connectivity demands, particularly in uploads. This requires investment in sustainable networks — and that means investment in fiber broadband.