Charter sees COVID-19 accelerating network evolution

Charter
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way some companies look at internet service, according to Spectrum Enterprise. (Charter)

Charter's Spectrum Enterprise says the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted corporate customers to take a much more active interest in ISP capabilities, and will likely accelerate adoption of network-as-a-service and SD-WAN. In addition, the company is seeing increased demand for applications and services that support remote work, a trend that Charter’s management team thinks will outlast the pandemic. 

“I think there will be a change in what businesses buy and what they find as critical or important,” said Satya Parimi, VP for enterprise data products at Charter’s Spectrum Enterprise. 

Since March, Spectrum has seen increasing demand for software clients that enable people to work from home. For example, the company offers virtual private network solutions and soft voice clients, both of which have been in high demand since more people started telecommuting. 

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Some companies buy Spectrum internet service for their employees. The employer can tell Spectrum which homes to connect, and Spectrum will bill the employer for these connections, or the company can pay employees a stipend to buy Spectrum internet service. Going forward, Parimi expects to see more connectivity solutions packaged with applications and security to facilitate WFH.

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“We’re definitely working on bundles and packages for mid-to-large enterprises looking for solutions in a post-COVID world,” he said. 

Bandwidth demand has skyrocketed, with individuals and corporate clients asking for immediate capacity upgrades. In some locations, Spectrum has been able to increase capacity for some customers by as much as 10x within days, and the company has also been pulling fiber to additional locations in order to turn up service quickly. Spectrum recently noted that it has hired 4,500 additional workers since March.

March was crazy

Parimi said that by mid-March, Spectrum was fielding a barrage of calls from hospitals, educational institutions, emergency services and first responders. “We had a massive influx the second week of March saying ‘I need more bandwidth, I need new services or I need new phone lines because my volume is going up,’” Parimi said. “We have automated parts of our provisioning, so we were able to very quickly react, in some cases within 24 hours, to get people upgraded from 100 megabits to a gig.”

In the future, capacity upgrades will be even faster thanks to network automation, Parimi said. Spectrum has already started the journey toward automated network-as-service, and the pandemic highlighted the value of this model. “If we had our entire network instrumented and operating in the service concept, which is network-as-a-service, we wouldn’t even have needed to be called about additional network capacity,” Parimi said. “The network would have sensed it, because usage has gone up in certain parts of the network, and it would have automatically flexed. But we’re not all there yet because we’re working with networks that have been built over time.”

Spectrum is currently running automated network-as-a-service in a lab, and Parimi said that within the company, the pandemic is proving the value of this technology. “People have been advocating for it, but if you were looking for a use case, or a business case for why it’s critical, COVID-19 has become one,” he said. 

RELATED: Spectrum Enterprise kicks tires on network-as-a-service for enterprise

Corporate customers see the value as well. Parimi said that companies are starting to ask questions about network architecture, network resiliency and capacity, all of which are enhanced by network-as-a-service. In addition, companies are recognizing the value of SD-WAN now that more people are working remotely. 

Parimi said the SD-WAN market is not immune to the current economic slowdown, but will be less impacted by it than many other markets. “It is going to slow down less than other technologies,” he said. “And when things pick up for every technology, this one will go faster, I think, than initially predicted.”

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