Today, the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG) released the first holistic analysis of U.S. Internet performance over the course of the pandemic, finding that the ecosystem as a whole saw very few widespread disruptions for consumers, businesses and organizations at a time of unprecedented traffic volume and flow changes as hundreds of millions of people worked and learned from home.
“The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many parts of the world issuing stay-at-home orders and creating a sudden shift to work/study from home,” said study co-editor Matt Tooley, VP Broadband Technology at NCTA - the Internet & Television Association, “This in turn created a dramatic shift in how consumers were using the Internet resulting in a seminal event for network engineers to study how well the internet performed.”
"The evidence available shows our networks are resilient; from ISPs to transit providers and campus networks," said study co-editor Kate Landow, IEEE Senior Member, DISH Wireless, "And we can make some assertions as to why. The design of the Internet itself, open and interoperable standards, competent technical execution and significant long-term investments across the entire Internet ecosystem have together built a network that can withstand unprecedented and quick surges of traffic."
“This is good news for all of us — in the face of a completely unprecedented shock, the Internet ecosystem held up,” said BITAG Executive Director Douglas Sicker, “And it gives policymakers, businesses and other stakeholders a shared set of facts, observations and recommendations to consider as we move ahead.”
Specifically, the report found:
- ISPs saw significant growth in both downstream and upstream traffic, increasing at least 30% and as much as 40% during peak business hours, with an increase to as much as 60% in some markets.
- While representative of only a small overall percentage of traffic, video conferencing increased substantially. Some networks saw more than a 300% increase in usage from February to October 2020.
- Some providers saw modest and temporary decreases in downstream traffic speeds, especially during earlier parts of 2020 while remaining above advertised speeds.
- Net Internet traffic increased overall because local information resources on organizational sites had to be remotely available.
- Transit networks, content delivery networks, and Internet exchange points saw traffic volumes increase 20-50%.
- Enterprise and campus networks saw an increase in the use of VPN services, in some cases, leading to VPN capacity problems. But increase in VPN usage, particularly on campus networks, was less than expected, partially because many applications are now hosted in the cloud.
- Networks saw greater upstream consumption than before the pandemic, but downstream traffic growth far outpaced upstream traffic growth.
- The growth in traffic varied widely by application, interconnect peer, and geographic region.
- Home Wi-Fi networks, in particular those with customer supplied home gateways and/or Wi-Fi access points, experienced performance challenges often due to the combined effects of increased traffic demand, a larger number of connected, and often outdated devices, and home network equipment.
The report offers several recommendations:
- Home Wi-Fi equipment that uses 802.11b (or older) should be retired, and users should be encouraged to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 when it becomes widely available.
- Operators of campus and enterprise networks should consider enabling cloud-based applications to use Single-Sign On (SSO) to allow direct, secure access to applications without requiring the use of a VPN.
- Network operators should continue to provision network infrastructure with enough excess capacity to prepare and account for future systemic “shocks” and rapid changes in traffic demand patterns.
- Finally, Internet stakeholders should continue with open communication and collaboration for the continued success of the Internet as its ecosystem worked together quickly and effectively to meet the massive increase in demand for Internet access.
The full report is available www.bitag.org.
About the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG): Established in 2010 prior to the first Open Internet Order, and just completed its 10th report, BITAG brings together engineers and technical experts to develop consensus on technical matters relating to the evolving Internet. Technical Working Group (TWG) participants must meet technical requirements through education and/or experience. BITAG has five participating member categories designed to include all of the Internet ecosystem. BITAG members value broad participation and provide support for independent engineers and academics to participate and represent in public interest.