The coronavirus pandemic has forced many of us to stay at home, which in turn put huge pressure on Internet Service Providers who had to ensure their networks could cope with the increased demand. But how big was that demand? As we approach the first anniversary of the pandemic on March 11, Comcast reveals how much more data passed through its network last year.
Comcast is the largest provider of cable internet access in the US, servicing tens of millions of homes. The 2020 network data report released by the company this week shows that peak internet traffic rose by 32% compared to pre-pandemic levels, but it was up by 50% in some locations. Downloads still make up the majority of internet traffic, and downstream traffic increased by 38% last year compared to 2019. It won’t surprise anyone to hear that 71% of that downstream traffic was for videoconferencing as everyone attempted to work remotely and communicate with friends and family.
The most eye-opening statistic in Comcast’s network data is the amount of Internet requests (DNS lookups) being made as we “surfed, streamed and emailed.” For the very first time, Comcast customers are generating over a trillion of these requests every day.
“The Internet was a bright spot during the darkest hours of 2020, keeping hundreds of millions of people connected to work, school, entertainment, and most importantly, each other,” said Tony Werner, President of Technology, Product, Xperience at Comcast Cable. “We’re proud of the years of strategic investment and innovation that enabled us to build the foundation of a high-speed, intelligent network designed to scale to the needs of our most demanding users, and also adapt to unexpected events.”
Comcast says it was able to cope with this huge surge in demand thanks to its engineers developing the AI-based platform called Comcast Octave. It tests over 4,000 telemetry data points across “tens of million of modems” every 20 minutes. It then automatically adjusts the modems to work more efficiently resulting in more speed and capacity being available across the entire network.
The increase in demand seems set to continue through 2021 as vaccines roll out and both companies and individuals decide if and when they want to go back to work (or continue to work from home). There’s also a big question mark over when we can all start venturing out again to see friends and family, attend events, and generally figure out what the “new normal” is.