Fiber networks to the rescue
Fiber networks suddenly play a vital role - a life savior for the economy as COVID-19 hits the world. But will the networks cope with the load?
In previous posts I have argued the opportunity fiber networks enable for us to work from home as means to fight climate change. Now, with the virus outbreak, we are involuntarily confining millions of people to their homes and asking those who can to work from home or participate in distance learning so that business can continue (almost) as usual. No one might have anticipated such a fast and dramatic shift of so many to these new ways of interacting, but it is clear that without fiber networks the situation would be far worse.
But will the networks cope with the increased load? Will video conferencing systems and cloud based services scale to withstand the inrush of new users? And will people adapt to the new situations and find alternative things to do when social meetings at restaurants and cinema are out of the question?
Several news agencies report EU officials appealing to content providers such as Netflix and Youtube to reduce the bandwidth and deteriorate services in order to avoid "collapse" of the Internet as more and more people are confined to their homes.
The state of Internet backbones throughout Europe will certainly vary, but based on reports from our customers as well as the main Internet exchange point in Sweden, NetNod, the networks are handling the change quite well.
One of our Swedish customers that operates a large open-access network, shared the following graph.
"Traffic has increased 10-15% during prime time and the workday load looks more similar to weekend traffic pattern - more surf during daytime now than during a normal workday. Compare Monday the 9th to Monday the 16th. Significantly more load during daytime, but still below the evening peak hour. We have no issues at all."
Swedish Internet guru Patrik Fältström, head of Security at NetNod, confirms the situation. He writes daily about the state of the Internet in Sweden: https://www.netnod.se/blog. In a blog post from the 18th of March he compares the bandwidth over the exchange point. While there is a clear increase in traffic, it is not overly dramatic and should be well within the excess capacity that operators need to have.
In conclusion, so far the Corona-situation has not had a dramatic impact on the Swedish networks. There are changes but all well within the capabilities of the infrastructure, thanks to a long list of unsung heroes working day and night as network engineers in city networks, Internet service providers and carriers to ensure that the Internet bits keep flowing.
It may be too early to speculate about the outcome, but I think that the COVID-19 experience will teach us all new ways of working with digital tools. It will lead to new innovation to improve the shortcomings and it will certainly show that we dont have to go to an office/classroom/cinema/show in person to be able to take part.