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Network traffic insights in the time of COVID-19: March 23-29 update

Executive summary

  • We have seen the stabilization of peak demand – with manageable traffic growth (unlike 40-50% growth we saw earlier)
  • Generally, we see “flattening” of traffic curves - as opposed to spikes  initially seen after lockdowns - due to continued and high traffic levels during the business hours (mostly driven by conferencing applications)
  • Similar flattening – on a much higher level of bandwidth -  is happening on the weekends (driven by video streaming)

Videoconferencing and streaming video

  • Continued dramatic growth in videoconferencing apps – some now showing a 700% increase from February 1
  • Self-imposed reduction of streaming rates by streaming video providers brought relief – no significant weekend peak increases (with some exceptions)
  • The abrupt decline in video streaming rates (happening from specific dates) suggests it was a result of speed reduction - not caused by congestion or insufficient capacity

The networks are delivering, but the cloud is helping too

  • Consistent Netflix average bitrates (ABRs) in the US and parts of Europe suggest sufficient capacity in service providers’ infrastructures
  • Cloud is coming to the rescue – for videoconferencing and streaming

Daily traffic

The diurnal curve (“jagged mountain”) continues to flatten mainly due to an increase of videoconferencing during business hours (symmetrical high-bandwidth traffic).

It is also interesting to see that streaming traffic starts earlier in the day (there are no afternoon lags that were the result of the afternoon commutes from workplaces to homes).

Weekend traffic

In lockdown environments, most networks showed little or no growth at peak hour (9 pm local), with some exceptions - some networks in Europe exhibited 20% of traffic growth from the previous week (and 64% of growth from February 1).

Videoconferencing

We continue to see – especially in the US – the dramatic growth in conferencing applications,  especially Zoom, which has experienced over 700% of growth from February 1 (in select networks in the US).

Graph showing network growth in US

This immense growth needs to be supported both by the transport network and by the cloud – applications and content domains - where service instantiation and video processing happens.

We have seen a significant uptake in additional CDN domains for multi-CDN delivery of Zoom services (adding Amazon – in addition to Zoom’s network).

amazon cdn graph

Video streaming and Quality of Experience

Last week brought a significant decrease in Netflix streaming rates (average bitrates, ABR) in Spain and France - over 20%, but unchanged streaming rates in the US.

In Europe, we have also seen a similar reduction in streaming rates for other major streaming video on demand (SVOD) content providers (e.g., YouTube, Amazon Prime Video).

SVOD ABR graph

A notable addition to the SVOD list is Disney+. They started their service in Europe on March 24 (in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, and Switzerland, with service launch in France now scheduled for April 7). So far, Disney+ streaming rates seem not to have been reduced, indicating that the video quality may be higher than the rest of streaming video on demand (SVOD) content.

In some European networks, Disney+ now represents about 8% of total SVOD traffic but about 18% of SVOD-related peering traffic. It is interesting to see that Disney+ uses six different CDNs to get their content to subscribers and has the potential to cause traffic shifts (as CDN providers balance their traffic).

CDN provider graph

Let’s go back to Netflix, still a significant contributor to the overall traffic volumes. We see very consistent bitrates (ABRs) in the US and parts of Europe, which suggest that there is enough capacity in the service providers’ networks.

We also noticed that a large portion of Netflix content now originates outside of on-net CDN caches (located within service providers’ networks). This was quite obvious during the first lockdown weekend.

Netflix pie chart

SVOD content delivered from the internet is further testing network peering capacities; we have seen the growth of Netflix cache-based streaming by 20%, and growth of OTT-based streaming by over 100% in some networks.

SVOD Netflix pie chart

Closing thoughts (March 23-29, 2020).

Traffic increases continue across all regions, and networks seem to be handling these increases well.

However, as mentioned before, we are seeing additional demand placed on specific domains (peering, edge routing). Also, there is a need for the cloud-based infrastructure to scale up to support this increased demand.

We continue to monitor the global and local effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on networks worldwide and will be providing regular updates.

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 @nokianetworks or @nokia using #COVID19, #connectivity

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.

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