In the past few weeks, there’s been a surge in people working and learning from home due to COVID-19—but they’re not the only ones adjusting to this new way of life. As more people log-on, internet infrastructure has felt the increase, too.
Recently, as a part of the Fiber Broadband Association’s weekly live video series, “Fiber for Breakfast,” experts discussed how COVID-19 is showing how essential fiber is for the future.
“I think it’s past a debate anymore whether fixed broadband service is an essential mechanism in which people participate in American society,” said Jon Sallet, a senior fellow at the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society.
According to data provided by Plume, 46.2 million Americans are online and active during the day, compared to the 22.6 million people active pre-COVID-19. A majority of this increase comes from computers.
Gary Bolton, vice president of global marketing at ADTRAN, said more people are using video calling platforms like Zoom, which require symmetrical bandwidth. In his experience, he said that program requires 2.4 gigabits per hour, slightly more than 5 megabits per second required in the upstream.
All that added pressure can add to an upstream bottleneck. Last mile networks still have a lot of asymmetric technologies, and the upstream gives out first as it has less than 1Mbps of capacity per subscriber.
“That’s what’s really going to impact your ability to have high quality video conferencing from home,” Bolton said. “What we’re seeing is if you’re running into a wireless network or satellite, you’re going to have a lot of difficulty doing any symmetric service.”
Ryan Keel, vice president of technical operations for EPB in Chattanooga, said having an expansive fiber-to-the-home network in the city has eased the influx of people working from their homes. He said they’re seeing increases in not only “office hours” but for all hours of the day.
“We do have the advantage of fiber-to-the-home, so the home is built for this type of consumption,” he said. “With the fiber GPON technology, it’s a more symmetrical design. We have a lot of advantages and we haven’t seen many issues.”
It’s evidence like this that shows fiber is the prevailing internet provider, Sallet said, and it’s further proof the federal government should be investing in fiber networks. He said during COVID-19 specifically, the Federal Communications Commission and the federal government should be tracking how internet usage is changing and report that out publically.
“With this increased and shifting demand, the FCC should be updating Americans about what’s working with our broadband networks and what’s not,” he said. “Not every place in America is the same, there are a lot of different technologies. I have a friend who lives in a rural area that gets DSL service and its 15 down and two up—that’s a strain.”
The clear need for fiber-based connectivity has grown steadily during the past decade, but COVID-19 has opened an internet pandora’s box. Understanding the possibilities of internet connectivity and the importance it’s having right now on the world economy, Americans will demand more reliable networks. Bolton said in this particular crisis, as businesses, universities and health care providers move their services online, having that connectivity will be essential in the future—not a luxury.
“We’re seeing a demand for fiber and broadband accelerate around the world,” he said. “I think this has put a fine point on the demand for upstream bandwidth.” And it is clear fiber broadband is the technology to deliver that needed upstream bandwidth and the future-proof reliable technology of choice to handle the increasing demands on our networks. Fiber is the critical infrastructure for 21st Century communications.
Want to join us for our next Fiber for Breakfast live video chat? Join FBA at 10 a.m. ET on April 15 for COVID-19 Pandemic Response: How Do We Deploy and Construct Networks During a Pandemic?