Network traffic patterns change during COVID19 lock-downs

COVID19 proved to be a challenge for Internet Service Providers (ISPs). As countries began locking-down, consumer demand for the Internet surged, flooding the network pipelines. However, despite these challenges, the Internet managed maintain its strength.

Whether it is due to mandatory lock-downs and quarantines or simply following the advice to stay home, end-users all over the world are finding new ways to stay entertained and connected with one another while maintaining social distance. During the global pandemic – COVID 19 – that struck at the end of 2019 and early 2020, more people than ever began moving their lives into the virtual realm. Schools, work places, social gathering, conferences, leisure activities, etc., which would normally rely very little on the Internet, have moved substantially to the Internet in an attempt to keep functioning. On top of that, staying indoors meant that many relied on streaming services more than ever to keep themselves entertained. For the Internet, this meant an unprecedented increase of traffic in a very short amount of time. In Germany alone, where citizens faced a loose lock-down/contact ban – meaning citizens could go outside for solo activities but needed to keep 1.5 meters distance from everyone – network patterns changed to being highly utilized almost all of the time.

*This figure is based on a clustering algorithm, which we concluded the three clusters represent workdays, other (public holidays or network events) and weekends.

A Surge in traffic during office hours

Before countries and states began COVID19 lock-downs, the Internet usually carried the most traffic during typical leisure times i.e. evenings (6PM to 10PM), weekends, and public holidays. A much lower amount of traffic was distributed during normal working hours (8AM-6PM).  However, during the loose lock-down/contact ban in Germany, which started in March 23rd, 2020, network operators saw a significant increase in internet traffic during workday hours and weekends, revealing that people were supplementing face-to-face activities, such everyday office conversations, school attendance, and social activities as well entertainment with online versions. This induced much longer periods of heavy network utilization.

A shift in traffic patterns

If we look at the figure above, we can compare pre-COVID19 traffic patterns with the traffic patterns sampled during the loosened lock-down to understand how user behavior changed. We see that, since 2018, most traffic in Germany behaved according to the assigned days ­– weekends behaved like weekends and weekdays behaved like weekdays – with a few exceptions. However, if we look at the period between the end of March and the beginning of June, we can see that traffic patterns for specific days no longer fall within their respective categories. Instead, we see that most of the days falls into the holiday category – a day associated with heavy utilization.

What these traffic patterns tell us

With most of the days during the loose lock-down/contact ban in Germany falling into the holiday category, we conclude that people are supplementing the usual face-to-face and outdoor activities with internet-based versions. Speaking with colleagues, attending classes or chatting with friends, as well as streaming videos and games all add more traffic to the network.

What we might see in the future

As scientist learn and reveal more about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, German government officials are beginning to re-open states and loosen social contact rules. However, the quick shift to virtual contact combined with the networks ability to cope has many people wondering if they want to return to their pre-COVID19 ways. With that being said, we can most likely expect that the network utilization we saw during the crisis to remain an ongoing trend rather a one-hit wonder.

To stay ahead of the trends, it is important for ISPs and network operators to have a visibility into their network traffic behavior. With BENOCS Analytics, you too can ensure your network is ready for the increasing traffic volumes as well as any other long-term spikes in utilization.