COVID-19 has changed our way of communication. The outbreak of COVID-19 in almost every corner of the world has transformed the lives of people not only economically but also socially. In this time of crisis, the one crucial irreplaceable technology that kept us connected with our loved ones, colleagues, business stakeholders and let us keep going is the ‘Internet’. In the wake of the coronavirus disease, government ordered people to stay-at-home which resulted in most of the people continuing their work-from-home. Office staff started communicating with peer group and business clients through video conferencing via applications like Zoom, Skype, etc. Home users started using such applications to conduct online house parties and socialising with each other making it as the ‘New Normal’ way of communication. However, all this led to a sudden rise in the demand for network connectivity with high network performance and a surge in network traffic.
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Impact Of COVID-19 On Network Performance
Growth In Mobile Network Traffic
Due to people working from home, students learning from home, and every member of the family using their phones while being present at home spiked the Internet traffic volumes with shift in patterns. Mobile network operators took this as a responsibility and adjusted their data cap to minimise the surge in most countries. The internet graph bent but the whole credit goes to the operators that they were able to withstand and did not let the line break as it was addressed soon with the significant dwell in traffic. For instance, in Croatia, internet traffic rose up to almost 50% in Q2. As per Vodafone, data traffic in Ghana grew 50% during the pandemic. NBN Co. Operator in Australia reported National Broadband Network peak downstream traffic was higher as 37% compared to late February baseline. There was a significant increase in the availability of the network from February to March irrespective of the congested network during the same period. WIOCC witnessed a growth in upstream traffic internationally in South Africa through the WACS subsea cable spiking from 25Gbps to 50 Gbps where WIOCC is one of the largest activators of capacity in network.
Demand for internet bandwidth scaled at a compound annual rate around the world with extremely high traffic levels 24×7 for the users having 3G and 4G connections. Moreover, expediting 5G deployment required continuous network tests to be performed with 5G drive test tools on selected locations. This would measure capacity and scale bandwidth to meet end-user requirements prior to making it live. A case in point, Vodacom South Africa made an announcement to spend R500 million (~27million USD) within two months for addition of network capacity that can handle sudden shift in network usage in catastrophic situations like COVID-19.
Change In Connection Speed
Since every person went online to do something on the Internet during lockdown period, the users started experiencing slow connection speed. Mobile network operators initiated mobile network performance testing by attending customer complaints about mobile network connection speeds in the locations with deteriorating network speed complaints as they found most of the places dropping their speeds. For example, studies revealed that download speed in the United States dipped 1% or less compared from 12 March (pre-lockdown) to 24 March (during lockdown).
Resilience In Last Mile Networks
It is often seen events such as sports or a much-awaited software release drive simultaneous streaming and downloads in a concurrent manner. These events cause surges in traffic for a limited duration that mitigates the long-term impact on connection speeds and network capacity. Now, due to lockdown norms, event-level traffic is consumed throughout the day as many people work and learn indoors. In this regard, the last mile networks have been quite resilient in providing overall network connectivity as big content providers like Netflix, YouTube, etc. Switched their default video bit rates to a lower range compared to their usual range to satiate increased demand for bandwidth in the last mile Internet Service Providers (ISPs) networks.
We certainly saw that COVID-19 has brought unprecedented changes in our lives, one being the virtual way of communication, trending among a vast population which solely depends on Internet connections. This means that mobile network connectivity should be excellent and users can work and learn from their home with less disruption in network services. Though telecommunication networks experienced a deep impact on their traffic, speed and bandwidth usage, certain measures taken by telecom operators and regulators in response to the pandemic made sure their users remain unaffected with the best of Internet services during the lockdown and post-COVID-world.