Upstream traffic surged 63% in 2020 during a pandemic-marked year that forced people to work and study from home and altered the period of the day that saw peak network usage.

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

April 2, 2021

3 Min Read
The nature of upstream network usage has likely changed forever, OpenVault says

Fueled by a pandemic that forced millions to work and school from home, 2020 was one for the history books in upstream data consumption, when data flows from the user to the network.

OpenVault's latest Broadband Insights study put that trend under its microscope and found that total upstream consumption surged 63% in 2020, roughly 350% higher than historic growth rates.

Figure 1: Click here for a larger version of this image. (Source: OpenVault) Click here for a larger version of this image.
(Source: OpenVault)

"Pandemic lockdowns changed the nature of upstream usage – in all likelihood, forever," OpenVault declared in the study.

While security cameras and video uploads are the kinds of services and activities that typically tax the upstream, the increased use of videoconferencing apps was among the primary upstream culprits in 2020. OpenVault notes that a one-hour group call on Zoom can chew up between 360 megabytes to 1.2 gigabytes, depending on the quality

OpenVault, which bases its studies on anonymized data from US ISP partners, found that monthly upstream consumption in 2020 peaked at 31 GB by year's end to make up the aforementioned 63% surge over year-end 2019.

Amplifying the Zoom situation, the study also found that the biggest boost in consumption in 2020 occurred during business hours – with usage exploding 98.5%, from 5.25 GB to 10.42 GB between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. – rather than the historic upstream peak period between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Additionally, average upstream usage was 0.96 GB on weekdays, 7% higher than it was on the weekends.

Among other nuggets, upstream consumption was fairly concentrated, as the top 1% of subscribers accounted for 30% of upstream usage, and the top 5% of subs accounted for about 30%.

"During peak hours, it is not uncommon for operators to have a single subscriber account for more than 80% of upstream usage on a given MAC domain," the company said.

US cable networks were able to hold up against the upstream strain in 2020, despite a thin slice of spectrum – usually between 5MHz and 42MHz – dedicated to the upstream.

However, it's becoming clear that cable operators didn't stand still, as 2020 was marked by increased activity around network node splits, the use of AI-assisted tools and techniques, and a push toward "mid-split" and "high-split" spectrum upgrades that expand the amount cable network capacity dedicated to the upstream.

But there was also plenty of upstream channel purchases in traditional cable network gear, with Dell'Oro Group reporting that spending on upstream CMTS channel purchases jumped 43% in 2020.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

A version of this story first appeared on Broadband World News.

About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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