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Can COVID-19 Possibly Cause a Failure of The Internet?

How Is COVID-19 Impacting The Internet?

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a global and large-scale stay at home order in many countries. While, almost 1/3rd of the global population have been explicitly ordered to stay within a restricted lockdown, in other countries, restricted movement orders are in place to arrest the rate of global virus spread with Social Distancing protocol. Globally, we are facing an unprecedented situation, and we don’t have enough data points to draw reasonable guesses. The majority of the population have been forced into restrictions, and they are tuning in to the TV and streaming services to entertain and enrich. It is creating a surge in online streaming.

Classes have shifted online as major universities such as MIT, Harvard, among others, have designed entirely virtual courses for their students to overcome the social distancing caused by Coronavirus. Others have followed suit and ed-tech is witnessing an increased usage. Remote work has become a reality at most companies, and this is leading to a surge in application usage such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Wezone etc. which make this possible. The consumption of services over the internet has skyrocketed, and the trend is only expected to keep increasing with time.

In fact, with the increasing reliance on accessing internet applications, many households have already or are considering upgrading their plans for more bandwidth and data. There seems to be no agreed date for the lockdown to be over in the foreseeable future and many people within the tech community have begun to worry. In essence, Will COVID-19 lead to an internet crash and will the internet be able to handle the strain of rapid traffic growth and increased latency.

What is The Current Scenario of The Internet With Coronavirus?

Internet usage has peaked in countries across the globe. For example, in Spain, mobile data consumption has grown up by 30%.
In India, average viewership across several OTT platforms has witnessed a 20 per cent increase. ( source: Business Standard). In South Korea, as cases spiked, television viewership shot up 17 per cent, according to Nielsen

corona virus graph

The rise in online streaming media consumption has put a strain on networks which are reeling from congestion and latency. Bhaskar Gorti of Nokia, which makes networking equipment to help operators manage their systems, says that internet use across networks has risen by as much as 80%.

Over the last decade, network providers have invested in upgrades such as more fibre and IP-based networks. They have de-centralized services and applications from national locations to the application edge and close to data centres in major cities. It has been to accommodate the expected surge in bandwidth demand from applications such as modern gaming, high-res streaming, virtual reality, etc.

CDN technologies have helped applications transition in this regard and move closer to the edge. It is highly advantageous because when the user requests for information on the application interface, the request only has to travel to the nearest data centre and then back to the user, instead of the signal having to travel to the origin server. It results in less load and congestion on the network servers and also delivers lower latency as a result of fewer hops.

CDN technologies have been pivotal in helping applications become modern and deliver a high streaming QoE to the users. And this investment into CDN and other infrastructure technology will help navigate and manage these unprecedented levels of crises.

What Do The Experts Say About This?

On one side of the spectrum are developed countries, which have already made robust infrastructure investments into landline, optics and modern network technologies such as CDNs. The consensus among network experts is that for the foreseeable future, the necessary infrastructure is in place to handle the spike in demand, and there should be no significant impact on the network performance.

However, if the crisis unfolds for a more extensive duration, then the surge in viewership is likely to continue at an even steeper upward trajectory, and this may start to test the capability of the current network infrastructure.

Craig Labovitz, CTO of Nokia Deepfield, said in an interview to FierceTelecom that service providers see a typical network growth of 35% to 45% YoY. However, the surge in viewership due to the coronavirus lockdown has led to this percentage network growth in weeks. For example, Spain has seen a 40% increase in peak usage over the past few weeks itself, and the impact in the U.S. has been a 29% increase over the previous two weeks.

Future Outlook On The Internet In the Presence of COVID-19

Content delivery networks (CDNs) seem to have enough headroom to handle the increased traffic loads during COVID-19 pandemic. Cloud infrastructure providers should also have sufficient additional compute, storage, and bandwidth capacity to enable their customers, including the e-learning, messaging, and videoconferencing tool providers, to scale their systems as necessary.
The concern is with poorer geographies which do not have state of the art infrastructure and where a significant proportion of the population still uses mobile connection rather than landline to access the internet.

A mobile-data connection runs a radio signal from a phone to the local base-station. From there, it gets linked up, via optical fibre or a microwave connection, with the network’s core, from where it gets connected to the broader internet. If too many people are trying to connect simultaneously to the same base station, then that station will get overwhelmed, and cause the calls to experience drop and transfer speeds to get slowed.

However, even for the state of the art infrastructure, things could get worse from here as more workers and engineers are asked to work restricted or are sent into self-isolation. Routine infrastructure and maintenance schedules will suffer and accessibility to far-off base stations will be impacted. These disruptions are going to be essential to consider when projecting for the future.

Apart from these, application providers also need to ensure that they have deployed sufficient compute, storage and bandwidth resources so that the app can handle the increase in their usage.

Wrapping Up

The COVID-19 pandemic and its resultant lockdown have thrown up opportunities for streaming service providers to engage with their users deeply and more prolonged. However, the challenge to rapidly responding with the desired scalability remains. And, this is creating concerns for many of these businesses. Deploying a CDN service for your business offers you the scalability to cost-effectively utilize best in class technologies and deliver a superior QoE to your end-user and insure against any application crash that might result from high traffic.

At Medianova, we provide global CDN solutions in streaming, encoding, caching, micro caching, hybrid CDN, and website acceleration to ensure that your website performance is as desired even under peak traffic conditions. We have delivered and managed CDNs for leading enterprises and our state-of-art solutions are benchmarked against industry-leading quality parameters.

high streaming QoE

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