The changes we’ve implemented as a society in response to the coronavirus have caused a massive shift in data and voice usage patterns. While we might normally expect changes to take place in slow motion over years, these changes have been near instantaneous. What does this mean for your network?
I wrote recently about the financial impact of COVID-19 on telcos, and we have also been discussing how independent telcos are keeping their people safe. Today I want to shift perspective and take a look at the impact of this virus on your network.
Data network usage
As I write this, I just submitted an order to increase my internet speed from 75Mbps download to 200Mbps download. Do I really need the extra capacity? I don’t know, but my connection has certainly felt sluggish this past week.
Not surprisingly, internet usage has gone up recently. A lot.
- According to KPMG those European countries with the strictest lockdowns have seen a 70% increase in data usage.
- Even before things got really bad (March 19), web traffic was up 20%, VPNs up 30% and gaming up 75% (per Verizon’s CEO).
- The problem has been so bad, that many streaming services are downgrading the quality of their videos to reduce strain on the network.
Voice network usage
Have we seen the same pattern in the voice network? Not so much.
I can’t find any published data on this, but anecdotally from the work we’ve been doing with our clients the volume of voice calls hasn’t changed much these past few weeks. There’s some slight evidence that call duration has increased a little (presumably people are spending more time commiserating about the situation) but the number of calls seems to be much the same.
What conclusions should we draw from this?
- Firstly, if your experience is different, please write to me – I’d love to get more data.
- Assuming you already had at least 25% headroom for growth / redundancy I don’t see any great cause for concern about overall voice traffic.
- I would expect a change in usage patterns on the subscriber side (fewer calls on business trunks, many more on residential lines). This could potentially mess up expected contention ratios on (e.g.) GR-303 IDTs – but not many are using GR-303 these days.
What to do about data usage?
I should start by saying that I’m not really a data guy – so take the following advice with a grain of salt.
- Monitor data usage, and see if you’re capacity-constrained anywhere.
- If you have a capacity bottleneck, make a plan to fix it – but also recognize that adding capacity may take some time.
- While you wait, make sure you have prioritization rules in place. You don’t want VoIP 911 calls to have audio issues because some kid is playing Fortnite.
(Not that there’s anything wrong with Fortnite. I tried it. It was fun… except that the other players were much better than me.)
The bottom line, if you are having capacity problems in your data network, hire an expert (i.e. not me!) to help you out. The internet backbone has plenty of bandwidth to support the new usage patterns (says the Internet Society) – you just need to take care of your network and the rest will be fine.
By the way, if you know a really good IP technician who does contracting/consulting then please drop me a line – I’d like an intro.
What does the future hold?
We’re all hoping that the current situation doesn’t last forever – but it could easily last several months. And even if everything goes back to normal in a few weeks, the improvements you make to your data network will not be wasted.
Internet usage is forecast to increase somewhere between 20% and 50% each year. So we’ve just gotten a year or two of increase in the space of a few days.
If the virus dies out and everything goes back to normal, then all that extra capacity you built will put you a year ahead of the curve – so maybe you can finally take a well-earned vacation.