NH internet providers confident of networks as usage surges

Working, learning at home means much bigger jump in daytime traffic
Covid Internet Traffic72

Atlantic Broadband, Comcast, Consolidated Communications – the internet service providers with the largest portion of the New Hampshire market – report traffic is up, as so many employees work from home, students use remote learning tools and people spend more of their leisure time stream videos and play games online.

“In the past couple of weeks, there has been a noticeable uptick [in network utilization],” said Rob Koester, vice president of consumer product management at Consolidated Communications. “It varies between a 15% to 30% increase during the day and 3% to 5% increase in peak nighttime hours.”

Concurrently, a Comcast report analyzing pre- and post-Covid-19 data shows usage is up 32% nationwide, and traffic from Atlantic Broadband customers has increased approximately 25%, with some areas as high as 30%, said an Atlantic spokesperson.

“With stay-at-home orders recently implemented in NH (March 27) and Maine (April 2), we have seen network traffic patterns in these locations rise to match the levels reached earlier in other Atlantic Broadband service areas,” said Andrew Walton, spokesperson for Atlantic Broadband.

Nationwide, voice over IP calls and video conferences are up a whopping 212% and 40%, respectively, since March 1, according to Comcast’s report.

“I’ve noticed personally, some of those sites have been strained a bit, but video conference companies and other collaboration tool providers have done a really incredible job of minimizing the bandwidth footprint of their applications while still providing a high quality product,” said Koester. “I am personally amazed at how the video conference platforms have performed under tremendous load. I noticed late last week some of them got laggy, slow to respond, but by Sunday they went back like nothing every happened.”

Looking at the stats, Koester said there is a significant difference when comparing pre- and post-Covid-19 peak usage times.

“Most of that increase in traffic really comes between noon and 4 p.m.,” said Koester, who speculated it could be parents are logging in later in the day, after helping their school-aged children with educational materials.

Comcast reported that, nationwide, the peak upload period has shifted from 9 p.m. as of March 1 to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. as of March 30, presumably because workers are actively sharing files during typical work hours.

“The overall usage is not only higher during the peak periods, but customers are using the service for longer periods of time during the day,” said Walton.

Unprecedented situation

Even though nighttime usage is up only slightly since Covid-19 precautions started, nighttime remains the time period when the bulk of Americans utilize the internet, mainly for entertainment.

According to Comcast’s report, there is a 38% increase in streaming and web video consumption and, gaming downloads are up 50%, sometimes 80% during new releases.

During that time, “about 80% of traffic is video streaming in one form or another, so it’s a large and growing amount of traffic,” said Koester.

According to Walton at Atlantic, Neftflix bandwidth usage is about 60% higher, with some evenings peaking 80% higher.

It’s an unprecedented situation, but not one that is incredibly taxing to network infrastructure, the providers say.

“Our network is built to accommodate the increased levels of demand that have occurred due to e-learning and work-from-home arrangements,” said Walton.

“We’re not anywhere close to our capacity,” said Koester of Consolidated Communications’ network. “Where we focus the most are on the big pipes that connect cities and towns – that’s where we see utilization grow the most.”

All three telecom giants have redundant connections built. Should a pole be taken down by a storm or car accident, traffic is rerouted through the secondary pipeline, which has smaller capacity but serves as a good backup.

“Some of those secondary connections are being upgraded in capacity sooner than we typically have done,” said Koester. “We were upgrading on a staggered schedule, but we’re accelerating to stay ahead of the curve.”

The push to work and learn from home has led some customers to upgrade their service, but Koester said most customers can take steps to improve their internet speed and connectivity by being aware of what devices and applications are running and not overloading the system with too much at one time.

“In my house, we try to be really cognizant of who’s doing what at what time,” said Koester. “Upstream bandwidth isn’t oversaturated when kids are doing a Zoom classroom and I’m doing a video conference – those things shouldn’t be an issue for most subscribers,” but could make a difference for workers using heavy-duty applications.

“This is one of the positive outcomes of the current situation is it’s going to shine a light on connectivity in the country and where connectivity is and shift the conversation more to fiber-to-the-home and how do we get fiber-to-the-home.”

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