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COVID-19 – A Look at UK Internet Traffic Across March 2020

Monday, March 30th, 2020 (10:19 am) - Score 4,343
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Last week represented the first full week of the national Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown since schools closed. Due to this we thought it might be a good idea to take another a quick look back at UK internet traffic from broadband ISPs and mobile operators over the past month. Suffice to say that last week was the busiest so far.

At our last check on Tuesday 24th March 2020 (here) we noted that traffic passing over the London Internet Exchange (LINX) had increased, rising from a peak of 3.86Tbps (Terabits per second) on their primary LON1 exchange at 6pm on Monday 16th March to 4.17Tbps at 5pm on Monday 23rd March.

By comparison the latest update shows that the highest peak of last week occurred on Friday 27th March at 5pm, when LON1 traffic hit 4.52Tbps. We suspect that some of this increase may have also been driven by the launch of the Disney+ streaming service on 24th March, but most will have come from other uses now that whole families are stuck at home (i.e. concentrating both work and play on domestic lines).

Once again we must remind readers that most online video content, which accounts for the bulk of consumer internet traffic, tends to be cached closer to end-users by ISPs using sophisticated Content Delivery Networks (CDN), which help to ease the burden on their external links. This is partly why the increase in usage is represented by a more modest upward curve and is thus very manageable.

This week we’ve decided to combine both LINX’s LON1 and LON2 switches into two graphs below. The first one shows how traffic has changed over the last month, while the second puts this into context across an entire year. Remember that, even without COVID-19, data consumption is constantly rising (the average monthly data volumes per household on fixed broadband jumped from 240 GigaBytes in 2018 to 315GB in 2019 – Ofcom).

NOTE: LINX does NOT provide a complete overview of internet traffic flow from all of the ISPs (e.g. BT’s network alone recently saw a peak of 17.5Tbps), but they do offer a useful indication for how such networks are behaving.

linx_march_2020_covid19_traffic_lon1_lon2

We should point out that the increase reported by LON1 and LON2 on LINX, which we perceive to offer a reasonable representation due to the sheer amount of traffic they carry, is less pronounced on other exchanges; particularly those that carry more business and school than consumer traffic (usage has actually fallen on some of those).

Just for some added context, here’s what total traffic over the London Access Point (LONAP), which is a not for profit Layer 2 Internet Exchange Point (IXP), looks like for February and March 2020. You can see a peak on 10th March (Tuesday – Week 11 below), where the release of the free ‘Call of Duty: Warzone‘ game (a 83-101GB download) caused traffic at a number of ISPs to surge (here), but after that it remains fairly level.

LONAP_march_2020_traffic

At the time of writing we haven’t seen any major reports of slow broadband speeds as a result of rising demand on domestic services, at least nothing above the usual level of gripes. Most networks are built to cope with many times above their normal levels.

Admittedly some ISPs might have been more lax with their upgrades and localised congestion issues could still occur (usually experienced as mildly slower speeds, which happens even during normal times). Luckily the drive toward gigabit-capable broadband has already caused many providers to invest in big upgrades, ahead of an expected rise in demand from faster connections, which may be helping to mitigate the current situation.

As we said last time, the biggest problem for internet providers right now is the impact of COVID-19 on their staffing (support and engineering). Some operators, such as Three UK, have closed down most of their call centres (shifting many to remote working) and others are running with a reduced workforce. As such it’s probably best to leave any none-essential queries until a later date.

We suspect that traffic this week won’t be too different from last week, although that could change if the weather worsens (i.e. those with gardens may spend more time indoors and online).

Leave a Comment
3 Responses
  1. Avatar Dan

    Does Linx only peer consumer traffic?

  2. Avatar Dan

    Thanks CarlT. I was bit confused.
    Dan

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