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COVID-19 – OECD Compare Exchange Traffic Between Countries

Thursday, April 30th, 2020 (12:01 am) - Score 1,475
world wide internet traffic

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has done a short study of internet use during the COVID-19 crisis, which highlights the impact on internet exchange points in several countries (inc. UK). Overall traffic jumped by as much as 60% but broadband ISPs successfully maintained their services.

The OECD notes that, in South Korea, operators have reported general traffic increases of 13%, reaching 45% to 60% of their deployed capacity. In Japan, NTT Communications saw an increase in data usage of 30% to 40%. In the United Kingdom, BT reported a 35% to 60% increase in daytime weekday fixed broadband usage.

Similarly, in Italy, Telecom Italia has experienced a traffic increase of 63% and 36% in the fixed and mobile network, respectively. In France, Orange reports that its international infrastructure has been in high demand with 80% of the traffic generated by users in France going to the USA, where a good chunk of entertainment and content is located.

Speaking of the USA, Verizon reported a 47% increase in use of collaboration tools and a 52% increase of Virtual Private Network (VPN) traffic. Meanwhile AT&T has seen mobile voice and Wi-Fi call minutes up 33% and 75% respectively, while consumer voice minutes were up 64% on fixed lines (a reversal of previous trends where fixed line calling has generally been in decline). AT&T also reported that its core network traffic was up 23%.

On top of that a large telecommunication operator serving several OECD countries, which is not named (although it sounds a lot like Vodafone), reported nearly 40% more bandwidth, with mobile traffic growth of 50% and 25% in voice and data, respectively.

The underlying internet infrastructure is also facing significantly higher demand. One critical element of this infrastructure is IXPs, which are bulk traffic exchange crossroads where multiple networks connect (to exchange traffic). IXPs report recorded net increases of up to 60% in total bandwidth handled per country from December 2019 to March 2020.

oecd_covid19_internet_exchange_traffic

We should caveat that internet exchanges don’t reflect the total level of traffic that may be flowing either around a country or into and out of it (e.g. UK ISP BT recently saw a peak of 17.5Tbps just by itself), although they can often provide a useful overview of changes in the general trend. The picture may of course vary as some exchanges carry more business or public sector (inc. research) than consumer traffic etc.

In the above case the OECD hasn’t clarified which IXPs they actually examined or how. Indeed the figures for the UK, which puts traffic for March 2020 at just above 3Tbps, seems to be a bit on the low side; even LINXs LON1 and LON2 switches combined (example) have tended to handle over 4Tbps (peaking to 5.1Tbps); that’s before we include any other UK IXPs.

We should also consider that all IXPs will generally be seeing a baseline increase in traffic as demand is always rising year-on-year. For example, the Netherlands experienced a net increase of 5.5% between September and December 2019, which can be considered their baseline prior to COVID-19.

Elsewhere Germany experienced an increase from 11.2% to 16.5% while Italy, one of the most severely affected countries in Europe, handled 39.9% more bandwidth between December 2019 and March 2020, up from only 1.8% growth in the prior quarter. But on the above table it looks like Canada saw the biggest growth over the past 6 months (c.60%), while on that scale the UK had a much more modest impact of around 12-13%.

So many factors could play into these figures that it’s difficult to analyse the reasons for some of the most dramatic changes (e.g. Italy and Canada) without first having a much more in-depth knowledge of the exchanges, ISPs and infrastructure setup in those countries. I’m not confident I can answer that with enough accuracy and so will reserve judgement on the matter.

The main point though, as the OECD underlines, is that “fixed and mobile broadband operators, as well as content providers, have successfully managed their networks to accommodate changes in utilisation patterns, respond to overall increased demand and avoid congestion that impacts working and studying from home, while supporting critical services such as telemedicine and emergency response.” Previous evidence from various broadband speed testing services would appear to support this, at least in the UK (see here, here and here).

OECD – Keeping the Internet up and running in times of crisis
https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/view/?ref=130_130768-5..

Leave a Comment
1 Response
  1. Avatar Mike says:

    Sigh, BT and others continue to maintain (and I believe them) that their traffic peaks are still influenced more by what Amazon Prime happens to be live streaming, or when a new Call of Duty update is released, than anything to do with coronavirus….

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