COVID-19 rages on, but service provider networks are still holding up well

The COVID-19 pandemic will change the Internet's infrastructure, according to the traffic and security experts at Nokia Deepfield.

"I do believe that some of the changes we have seen in terms of capacity and peering and links – and literally watching some of the core Internet infrastructure be rebuilt before our eyes over the last several months – some of that absolutely will be permanent," said Craig Labovitz, CTO of Nokia Deepfield, on a public webinar Tuesday morning. "And we'll see a different Internet, [a] different Internet infrastructure, come out on the other side of the pandemic."

As more and more cities locked down, closed businesses and moved the stuff of everyday life from a physical to a virtual world, telecom and cable service providers experienced a massive amount of traffic growth. Fortunately, they were ready.

"We normally expect networks to grow anywhere from 40-45% over a given year," Labovitz said. "The Internet is growing; the Internet is growing all the time. What is really remarkable about the last four to six weeks is to see a year, or more, [of] growth in a period of three or four days – [a] really unprecedented level of growth and [an] unprecedented level of changes in the core of the Internet infrastructure – as providers quickly added capacity," he explained.

The way we use apps and the traffic associated with them changed dramatically, as noted by Guiu Fabregas, a product manager and consulting engineer at Nokia Deepfield. Zoom, he said, has seen videoconferencing usage stay high and even grow during the weekends when other conference providers aren't as busy. Gaming companies are also driving demand by sending updates at more frequent intervals, spurring at-home players to try out new characters, worlds and story arcs – often while connected to dozens of other players in real-time.

Even while seeing apps we know and love being used at different times, service provider networks the world over held up really well, the Nokia Deepfield team said. But the shock of all that sudden traffic – and the change in traffic patterns and types – may have service providers working to build more flexible, agile networks that can remain ready for whatever is next.

What we can't predict now, Labovitz said, is what changes in application use and traffic patterns will be permanent. Will some patterns revert back to the way they were before? Of course, we'll still watch tons of YouTube, but will Zoom parties and happy hours still be as popular, even when the world returns to soul-crushing commutes and open-planned offices?

Even the deep minds at Nokia Deepfield didn't have answers. But they did express the kind of confidence in their customers that should make us all feel a bit better about our connected lives. Labovitz concluded by pointing out that "the networks were made for this."

"We're confident in the ability of the different providers around the world. We're confident in the technology," he said.

Here are some related stories that discuss COVID-19 traffic changes, service provider reactions and earlier observations by the Nokia Deepfield team:

— Phil Harvey, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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