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Network traffic insights in the time of COVID-19: March 16-March 22 update

Exec summary

  • Continued growth of traffic
    • An additional increase of 10%-20% in peak traffic over the previous weekend, bringing cumulative increase between 30%-50% and, in some cases, over 50% over ‘normal’ weekend peak traffic
    • Most of the increase is due to streaming video (e.g., Netflix, YouTube)
  • Capacity / Quality of Experience
    • Networks are handling traffic well – so far
    • Significant decrease in Netflix streaming rates in Europe provided relief
    • Globally, service providers are starting to see increased utilization levels on some peering links and edge routers
  • Continued unprecedented growth in latency-sensitive applications during business hours
    • 300% growth in remote conferencing in the US (e.g., Zoom, Skype)
    • 400% growth in games

After the lockdown

In our blog from March 20, 2020, we examined what happened with the network traffic right after COVID-19 lockdown (also: stay at home, or shelter-in-place) orders. We zoomed in on Europe (EU) and looked at the “Day 1” and the “Weekend 1” traffic patterns.

Let’s take a look at week 12 (W12), or the week of March 16, 2020.

Monday, March 16: A global look

Monday, March 16, brought continued traffic increases across the globe. The relative increases – compared to a regular Monday (we chose Monday, February 3 as a benchmark) - were the highest in Europe and Latin America, with some networks having daily peak traffic increasing over 40% above their typical (Monday) peak values.

March 16 traffic

Sunday, March 15: A global look

Many operators use weekends, and especially Sunday prime-time hours (after 9 pm), as the peak busy hour for which the network capacity is engineered. Let’s look at Sunday, March 15. The operators in the US saw a moderate increase over the previous weekend’s traffic peaks (March 8) – anywhere between 7% and 15% range. The traffic in Europe jumped significantly, especially for operators in country lockdowns. In those environments, regular previous Sunday peak traffic (March 8) was exceeded by over 30% or even over 40%. The situation in Latin America showed a wider distribution  – from small increases to those over 30%. 

In our previous blog, we investigated the Sunday 1 effect after COVID-19 lockdown in greater detail by examining one network; here, we are taking a broader, global look.

March 15 traffic

Sunday, March 22: A global look

Sunday, March 22, brought a different picture. Significant Sunday peak traffic increases were recorded everywhere, with volumes in Latin America rising substantially (versus their ‘normal’ values on March 8). In some cases, we saw traffic increases exceeding 50%.

Interestingly enough, the weekend/Sunday peak traffic in Europe was not as significant as the previous weekend. Overall traffic increases over their ‘normal’ values (March 8) were in the 20%-30% range. However, it turns out that a few networks (in countries affected by lockdowns) saw overall traffic drops between 5% and 7% compared to the Sunday, March 15.

March 22 traffic

To understand what happened, let’s look at the video streaming. A large amount of all video streaming traffic is related to Netflix streaming, and the story of Netflix during the week of March 16 is an interesting one.


During week 12 (W12, March 16-March 22), Netflix reduced its streaming speeds in several countries in Europe. We noticed the immediate drop in the average bitrates (average streaming rates) at around 20%.  It also appears that, in some networks, the preparation for this move was already taking place the weekend before.

Looking at the prime time (which for one operator is on Saturday at 11 pm), we noticed a slight increase in the number of Netflix streams - about 6% over the number of streams the previous weekend.

Even with this increase in the number of streaming sessions, the “slowdown” of Netflix showed a significant relief to the overall network traffic, as the total Netflix traffic dropped by 33%.


It turned out that this reduction in Netflix streaming rates was a win-win. More people streamed their Netflix content (more sessions were active), while the overall contribution of Netflix traffic was reduced – explaining our global snapshot for Sunday, March 22.

Thoughts on Week 12

We continue to see the increases in traffic – across all regions. Networks seem to be handling these increases well, but the first signs of additional stress imposed on some networking domains (peering, edge routing) are already there.

We continue to monitor the global and local effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on networks worldwide. We will also be placing some additional focus on the US, so stay tuned.

As mentioned previously, the basis for all our analyses is the information we obtain from the Nokia Deepfield portfolio of network insight, analytics and DDoS security products.

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokia using #COVID19, #coronavirus, #TeamNokia, #connectivity, #5G, #healthcare, #4IR, #sustainability, #CSR.

Craig Labovitz

About Craig Labovitz

Craig (Dr. Craig Labovitz) co-founded Deepfield in 2011, which was acquired by Nokia in January 2017, and became a part of Nokia’s IP and Optical Networks. Currently, Dr. Labovitz has a role of Chief Technology Officer for Nokia Deepfield portfolio of Network Intelligence, Analytics and DDoS Security products.

Tweet us at @nokianetworks

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