Broadband booming, networks staying strong

| April 09, 2020 | |

Whether it’s ordering groceries, working from home, attending school or just staying entertained, broadband use is booming.

With so much demand on the internet, reliability is essential. Cable, with about two-thirds of all broadband subscribers in the United States, is meeting that challenge, thanks to internet speeds that have quadrupled in the last few years.

  • Broadband network usage was up by about a third for fixed networks and 10%-20% for cellular networks in the past few weeks, with, not surprisingly, increased demand during daytime hours, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai reported on April 2.
  • Average downstream usage per customer in urban areas rose 98.3% while upstream usage per customer climbed 68.6% on Monday, March 16, compared to a week earlier, according to OpenVault, a company that specializes in the collection and analysis of household-level broadband usage data. The company also found average upstream usage per subscriber on March 16 in these areas was 22.1% higher than the peak over the past three weeks. Open Vault’s CEO said that internet usage typically falls off a bit in March.
  • Internet connected device use was up 28% and video game console use skyrocketed 35% for the week of March 16 compared to the previous week, according to Nielsen.
  • Between March 1 and March 30, Comcast reports its peak internet traffic is up 32% on average – 60% in some areas – as people stream more video, download games, and video conference more. The company said linear video consumption increased by 4 hours to 64 hours per week and that video-on-demand is nearing “record highs,” up 25% year over year. The company also said it’s seeing gaming downloads up 50% generally and 80% during new releases, and there has been a 38% increase in streaming and web video consumption.

Most internet service providers, including cable operators, have lifted usage caps and suspended charges for going over data limits in response to the coronavirus crisis.

“It appears that our nation’s communications networks are holding up very well amid the increase in traffic and change in usage patterns,” Pai said on a call with broadband and phone companies. “That’s thanks in part to networks being designed to handle ever-higher peak traffic loads and in part to a market-based regulatory framework that has promoted infrastructure investment and deployment.”

Pai’s comments on network reliability during this crisis were echoed in a piece written by former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler: “Credit is due to the nation’s broadband providers. The fact we can work from home is the result of hundreds of billions of investment dollars and construction and operational skill.”

NCTA-The Internet & Television Association has launched a COVID-19 internet dashboard. In a blog post, NCTA president Michael Powell called it a tool to let the public and policymakers track the growth of traffic during the pandemic and a weekly update on how cable broadband operators are meeting that challenge. Results also can be seen by state. TCA members Charter Spectrum and Comcast are among the cable companies contributing key metrics to the dashboard.

Cable networks are able to keep up because they already are engineered to handle spikes and shift in usage patterns, such as large traffic increases around events such as the Superbowl or the Olympics.

In addition, cable’s regional and national centers are carefully monitoring network performance around the clock. Cable companies have national, interconnected networks; if needed, traffic can be shifted to redundant systems. The cable industry is confident that internetcapacity will continue to perform, even under increased demand.

“Although more customers are at home and accessing the internet during historically off-peak times, their activities are generally less data-intensive and use significantly less bandwidth than streaming and gaming,” said Ken Johnson, Sparklight’s senior vice president of technology services. “We want our customers to know that there is currently substantial capacity on our network to handle the increased online activity.”

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