The COVID-19 pandemic caused a network-wide disaster unlike anything we’ve seen before. Thanks to the technological developments and adoptions of the last decade, the Internet managed to withstand the hit and our networks are growing stronger every day. That’s according to Dr. Douglas Sicker, Executive Director at the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG).
Sicker joined the Fiber Broadband Association’s Fiber for Breakfast webinar to share findings from his recent report on pandemic network performance and the industry response.
“In this report we asked, ‘How can we gather and process information in a meaningful way to discuss what has happened in the past year?’” Sicker explained.
He noted a goal of the report was to consider all aspects of the Internet ecosystem.
“When COVID hit, we had this major shift of where people were working and where they were going to school—they all shifted to at home,” Sicker explained. “And as you know, this caused a major shift in traffic to the Internet.”
BITAG’s study found—in some ways surprisingly, he noted—how the Internet managed to hold up against the strain.
“What we saw very clearly was an opportunity to look at how the Internet evolved and the consequences of that evolution. We’ve seen things like the adoption of higher speed broadband technology and of CDNs, different Internet connections and so on all having an impact on making the Internet as resilient as it is,” Sicker said. “If these things didn’t happen, there’s no way the Internet would have been able to handle the dramatic shift that resulted due to COVID.”
He noted how the changing and adoption of technology as it happened over the last 10 years has had a direct impact on the Internet being as resilient as it was and continues to be. Sicker explained that the pandemic also allowed for service providers to think about how they view disaster planning across the network.
“This was a disaster that occurred across the entire network,” Sicker said. “Most are as a result of a natural disaster that mostly only impacts a specific area of the network [such as a tornado, earthquake, flood, etc.].”
Through the study, one of the first things that Sicker noted BITAG saw was the uptick of user devices. Not surprisingly, Sicker said, we had an influx of people buying newer, better devices to set up their home offices and at-home learning spaces. A lot of those devices had higher bandwidth demands.
“One of the things that is still happening and creating problems is people using older home Wi-Fi network technology, which creates performance problems,” he added.
With consumers buying these new products to enhance their setup, there was a big impact on the home network and the quality, and even placement of home Wi-Fi routers. Sicker explained that when those issues were adjusted or resolved, the networks started operating much better for consumer experience.
Unsurprisingly, Sicker and BITAG saw notable increase in traffic to the access ISP, the enterprise and on campus and that traffic continued to be asymmetrical in the aggregate.
“We saw a radical increase in terms of video conferencing (estimated at 300% increase). That put a strain on service providers,” Sicker mentioned, adding there was also increased usage of gaming, web and video streaming.
In summary, Sicker listed the following recommendations that came as a result of the study:
- End users should upgrade older devices to Wi-Fi 6.
- Equipment vendors should add support and enable Active Queue Management (AQM).
- Enterprises should consider enabling cloud-based applications to use single-sign-on (SSO) to reduce the traffic loads on VPNs.
- Network operators should continue to build our infrastructure with enough headroom to facilitate quick reaction to sudden traffic and usage changes.
- The Internet ecosystem should continue to explore, develop and refine measurement tools to measure quality of experience.
- Network operators should continue to make use of open standards and technology as a means for cost effective solutions.
- Internet stakeholders should continue with open communication and collaboration.
Sicker recommends for anyone interested in these findings to read the full study, expected to publish on the BITAG site this week.