Due to the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) the overall Internet throughput is much higher in 2020 than it has been in 2019.

Increased throughput at the internet exchange points

In a previous blog post we already wrote about the throughput at various internet exchange points. In Germany, on Monday 16th March 2020 all kindergartens closed. The previous throughput peak of around 6.7 TBit/s at the Frankfurt DE-CIX increased to more than 8 TBit/s.

Carsten Titt, the speaker of the DE-CIX, said in an interview with hr that there will be enough capacity available and the overall bandwidth between the various IXPs can also be increased.

Reasons for the increased throughput

Until today (Saturday, 21st March 2020) there are already some sort of curfews in place (e.g. Germany, France, China, Isreal) or will be taken into place in the coming days or weeks (e.g. USA). You might think that the throughput increased because of the higher usage of streaming providers like Netflix. But this is not the only reason. Netflix and other streaming providers deploy so called caching servers to the Internet providers. If you stream a video from a service like Netflix, it only uses the bandwidth of your Internet provider but not the bandwidth of global internet connections.

Sadly, not all of the Internet providers have caching servers installed. This affects local internet providers in Italy and Spain:

That being said, streaming providers do generate more traffic. But instead, most of the additional traffic in the last days is generated by video conferencing applications. At the DE-CIX, the traffic of video conferencing software has increased at 50%. This includes software like Zoom, Hangout, Microsoft Teams and remote desktop solutions like Team Viewer.

Also, Twitch is experiencing a jump of 10% in total users. Due to the nature of live streaming a caching solution like Netflix is not possible. More throughput is needed.

Audio streaming for voice telephony (VoIP) also increased in the last days. Some providers like Drei Austria see also a 50% of increase of the normal VoIP traffic. VoIP/audio traffic does not need a high bandwidth, so this is not such a big problem.

Actions against the increased traffic

Netflix

The European Union Commission urged Netflix to reduce the streaming quality of the videos:

  • The highest bitrate will be removed
  • The bitrate in the HD profile will be lowered from 3.8 Mbps to 2.9 Mbps
  • The bitrate in the UHD profile will also be lowered
  • The SD profile will not be changed

Overall, this means a reduction of 25% of required bandwidth. But as already said, only regions without caching servers will benefit from this reduction.

YouTube and Amazon Prime

The European Commission also talked to YouTube. On Friday, 20th March 2020, YouTube changed the default streaming quality of videos from HD to SD. The measurements will be initially only active for 30 days. But at the current situation you can expect a much longer period of time.

Amazon Prime also joined the changes on Friday.

Closing thoughts

Depending upon how long the Coronavirus forces us to stay at home the Internet throughput will further increase. Live video streaming will be the main driver behind it:

  • Employees world wide will have to expand the usage of video conferencing software.
  • Self-employed people might have to change their current business into streaming/content creators. The demand for entertainment will increase in the coming weeks while the normal working will decline.
  • We want to communicate with our families and friends to overcome the social distancing.
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