How COVID-19 Nearly Broke The Internet In Europe

by | 05/06/2020 3:41 pm
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A massive spike in internet usage during Europe’s COVID-19 lockdown almost resulted in the internet breaking. Here’s how Amazon, Apple, and Netflix helped stop it from happening…


We live in strange times. The COVID-19 pandemic swept around the globe at an incredible pace, leaving nothing but destruction and sorrow in its wake. COVID-19 has affected everybody, even Netflix, Apple, and Amazon.

Netflix and Apple were the first two companies to announce they would be reducing streaming quality in Europe in a bid to deal with the huge demand placed on their servers by everybody being at home. Amazon then followed suit for its Prime Video streaming service.

“We support the need for careful management of telecom services to ensure they can handle the increased internet demand with so many people now at home full-time due to Covid-19,” a spokesperson told The Guardian. “Prime Video is working with local authorities and internet service providers were needed to help mitigate any network congestion.”

Reductions To Streaming Quality In Europe

Following the agreement to reduce streaming quality in order to keep Europe’s internet functional, Amazon, Netflix, and Apple all agreed to reduce the streaming quality of their respective video-on-demand services. Combined, this initiative helped Europe Internet Service Providers stay on top of demand and ensure uninterrupted service during Europe’s two-month lockdown.

Starting around March 18, Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime, as well as Apple, started reducing the bit rates down to standard definition. According to regulators, these changes to bit rates helped EU ISPs better manage network congestion and, importantly, kept the internet up and running without any major drop-outs of service.

But even with these measures in place, internet speeds around the world dropped, as download rates increased, as you can see from Fastly’s data below:

global internet speeds during covid-19 lockdown
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How Did COVID-19 Cause Internet Usage Spike

With millions of people across Europe trapped in their homes for months on end, internet usage went through the roof, causing the biggest broadband strain ever experienced. Think about it: normally, millions of people would be at work, doing work stuff, not watching, and streaming shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Remove all these people from work and place them at home with nothing to do, and the first thing they’re going to start doing is binge-watching shows on Netflix. Video content is extremely data-heavy, even more so if you’re talking about content that is delivered in 4K, and these factors all combined to create was essentially the perfect storm for internet providers.

How Other Nations’ Internet Held Up During Lockdown

Internet infrastructure varies from country to country and, for this reason, not all places were affected in the same manner. For instance, in the USA, despite massive spikes in usage it appears as if there was never any possibility of the internet falling over.

“We are monitoring our network usage very, very closely and we’re watching the load on the network both nationally and locally,” said Joel Shadle, a spokesman for Comcast, speaking to MLEX.

 

“So far, we’ve seen some shift in usage patterns, with more daytime use in areas that have moved to a work-from-home environment, and where schools are conducting distance-learning programs. But overall, peaks in usage are still well within our network’s capability.”

In the UK, South Korea, New Zealand, and Japan, huge internet usage spikes occurred during lockdown but each country’s infrastructure didn’t experience any issue, so internet usage – streaming, downloading – remained exactly the same as normal. Similarly, in China, where the outbreak began, there was zero disruption to internet services.

Still, nearly all regions reported massive spikes in internet usage – anywhere from 30% to 60% over normal levels. Similarly, the use of video-conferencing apps like ZOOM sky-rocketed by 150% across the globe.

It’s Not Just Video That Caused Massive Internet Spikes

Video-on-demand services like Netflix account for around 60% of the data delivered globally by internet service providers. But torrent sites were also shown to have a significant footprint as well, according to Sandvine, who detailed how BitTorrent made up over 27% of upstream volume traffic globally, and around 44% in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

On top of this, you have gaming to consider as well. Multi-player gaming – a hugely popular hobby enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people – has a massive footprint globally, when looking at internet load. According to reports, the gaming industry saw a 28.54% spike in usage during lockdown.

More Demand Means More Capacity

How big is the internet? According to data, the global internet bandwidth (as of August 2019) is 466 Tbps, up 26% from the previous year. The figures for 2020, however, are likely to be even higher, potentially by as much as 30-40%.

Moving forwards, networks and ISPs will look to 5G to take some of the strain off of our aging cable networks. Most predictions agree that by 2030, 5G speeds will be so fast that they will be able to handle almost anything. Similarly, it will be 5G that powers smart cities, factories, and pretty much everything else in between.

How fast will 5G eventually be? First, it might actually be called 6G by 2030, and, theoretically, we could be looking at download speeds of 1TB per second – or 8,000 gigabits per second, according to Dr. Mahyar Shirvanimoghaddam from the University of Sydney. It’s worth pointing out that this MASSIVE figure is pure guesswork at the moment, guesswork based on actual research, but still guesswork all the same.

Crazy, right? Well, that’s where the future is heading; 5G will be first, then the next iteration, likely 6G, and, from there, who knows? Maybe we’ll all be serving our robot masters by that point.

Either way, whatever happens, the internet is going to be proper quick!

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