Marta, a self-employed winemaker, serves her clients online from her home last December.Enric Fontcuberta / EFE
The coronavirus pandemic changed our use of the internet in a few days. Mostly he shot it. But we also started to use the network in a different way. One year after the start of confinement in European countries, it begins to be seen that the new normal will not be like the old one for the time being, according to the new scientific article The Confinement Effect , by 12 researchers from Spanish and German institutions, already accepted by the IMC (Internet Measurement Conference), one of the most important conferences in the field of internet analysis. The main conclusion is that the use from home and at any time has skyrocketed, something that before we only did on weekends.
"The increase in traffic occurs at unusual hours so that there are peaks," says the text. "The type of daily traffic is moving towards weekend patterns, especially during the 2020 lockdown," they add. This is partly unsurprising. People stopped going to offices or universities and personal communications became online: videoconferences, above all, but also email or VPNs to connect to work remotely. Living with people had become mediated by screens. The pattern of the weekend had invaded the remaining five days.
Now, a year later and with the pandemic still underway, the phenomenon has decreased, but it has not been diluted by any means. Compared to February 2020, in January, videoconferencing traffic continued to more than double any day of the week, with no exception hours or days. Almost the same occurs with university networks, where traffic hardly decreases on Saturday and Sunday compared to the rest of the week. The measurements do not imply definitive conclusions, but indicate a trend towards a different use of the network. Now there are, for example, game traffic peaks every day of the week at the beginning of the morning compared to what was usual in February 2020.
Also, especially at the beginning, there was more activity in the early morning and at midnight, probably before the children wake up or go to bed. It was one of the quiet moments. That type of longer day continues to be seen in some data. The authors do not dare to speculate much, but perhaps you can extend the day or play and watch more movies at night if you do not have to get up so early to go to work? Or are these the only moments that are left free in a less compartmentalized day?
The infrastructure may have to change
These changes obviously have social consequences but also, just as important, for the infrastructure, according to Juan Tapiador, professor at the Carlos III University and one of the authors of the article. "It is observed that every day is like the weekend, that there is activity from the first hour, which is relevant for those who design the networks because they are dimensioned taking these patterns into account," he says.
This change in patterns can lead to changes in the infrastructure. Until now, households had more capacity to receive data than to send it. But remote work and video conferencing require more upstream traffic than usual in private homes, which used the internet primarily for browsing or to access video-on-demand platforms, which do not require that type of capacity. "This is a remarkable result, because more capacity in the last kilometer for internet providers is expensive and difficult to replace with new technology," says the text. Narseo Vallina-Rodríguez, researcher at Imdea Networks and the University of Berkeley and also co-author, highlights this detail: "It is more expensive to run fiber optics to each of the buildings, there are millions, compared to deploying it between switchboards."
Other The conclusion of the traffic analysis this year highlights a detail that is not known to be unimportant: the network has resisted. "It has been a success story," says the article. The capacity of the network grew in a couple of weeks in March 2020, the same as in the whole of the previous year: a jump of 30% more. And it was hardly noticed.
"Operators design systems with the capacity to withstand spikes," says Tapiador. “In this case it has turned out that this planning has been sufficient. The Internet, as a set of protocols and technologies, has turned out to be robust for precisely these phenomena, although in this case I would say that it has been more the responsibility of the capacity of the networks than of the concept itself: it has been more thanks to having 12 highways. lanes than in the form of the highway network itself, ”he adds.
Although a disaster where the internet crashes is still difficult to imagine, there could be more uncertainty about the ability of certain services to offer their applications to a number of unusually older users. But this can in a way be solved with elastic designs that allow more load to be accommodated. Although not in all countries they have the same capacity: “There is a recent scientific article from Facebook where they say that there were problems in the performance of traffic in networks that were not well dimensioned in emerging countries. It is an observation that complements our results very well, ”says Vallina-Rodríguez.
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