The global pandemic is an accelerant, not a change agent. It didn’t cause a sudden brave new world of home internet to come into being. It merely accelerated trends that were already in place. For example:
• For several years, workers have been questioning the time spent commuting when they could be more productive on their laptops and smartphones from home.
• Distance learning was increasing even before the pandemic, with fairly high adoption rates of education technology in 2019.
• Movies, music, live sports and other event streaming has been skyrocketing for the last few years. While the pandemic kick-started Zoom and boosted other video-conferencing and streaming services, these were already shifting into high gear by 2019.
If You Build It, They Will Come
The main factor for increasing work/study/entertainment from home is the throughput rate of internet service. As the average internet download speed hurtled toward 100 Mbps, internet service providers (ISPs) were already changing the usage landscape. According to Akamai’s State of the Internet Report, from 2012 to 2017, the average peak connection speed in the U.S. quadrupled to 86.5 Mbps. Speedtest informs us that the rate had risen another third by the end of 2019.
So, the trend of more internet usage from home was clear even before the pandemic.
Stepping On The Gas
With the infrastructure in place and the rapid upward usage trend clear, the sudden widespread lockdowns in March of this year were all that was needed to ignite the poised rockets of home internet use. Here are some examples from the field.
• In a week-over-week comparison, Verizon said that total web traffic on its network between March 12 and March 19 ratcheted upward by 22%.
• AT&T reported a series of record highs in data traffic between its network and its peers, driven by heavy video streaming. The company reported that its voice calling over Wi-Fi, the network medium of choice within the home, was up 88%.
• According to Cloudflare, countries like the U.S., Canada, Australia and Brazil experienced a jump in network usage suddenly by 40% to 50%. CNet reports that leading internet exchanges in Amsterdam and London also witnessed spikes of 10% to 20% in usage during the week of March 9, shortly before the World Health Organization declared the outbreak to be a pandemic.
New Habits Might Become Permanent Habits
Our ascending internet-usage habits, begun well before this global event and accelerated as a result of it, induce us to ask some vital questions:
• Do people need to be physically at their worksites every day to perform their jobs?
• Is “going to school” (especially at the university level) an efficient and effective way to learn?
• Do we have to attend a live event to enjoy it?
The trend is clear — it was only a matter of time before we started to seriously deal with these questions. According to MIT research cited by Forbes, “Once businesses and individuals invest in the fixed costs of remote work they may decide to stay with the new methods.”
And so they shall. It is certain that the increased work, study and entertainment from home have now become a permanent part of the lives of millions of people. They aren’t likely to go back anytime soon.
What It Means For ISPs
ISPs will be challenged with new peak and average usage levels of internet usage. These are likely to remain the same or even continue to accelerate.
People will increasingly depend on the internet for their business, pleasure and many other aspects of life. As such, customer experience (CX) will become more crucial than ever. ISPs will need to:
• Invest in infrastructure that maintains a lead over the consistent demand for “more internet.”
• Address the CX requirements of individual internet services in the home, implementing capabilities that are “context-aware” and tune the home network according to the types of services that people are consuming at any time.
• Collect insightful usage data that will enable the delivery of personalized services that meet the increasing needs of home subscribers.
• Adopt end-to-end monitoring of the quality of experience from the device that is consuming any service all the way to the service cloud.
• Implement solutions that can identify and fix problems before users encounter them.
• Empower users to quickly fix many of their own connectivity problems by furnishing them with helpful step-by-step, accurate remediation instructions.
ISPs should look to their current offerings and address these areas of improvement to better serve customers and the increasing demand for “more internet” in the post-pandemic era.