Pandemic drove upstream broadband traffic boom: OpenVault

Upstream broadband traffic increased 63% – from 19 GB to 31 GB – between December 2019 and December 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic impacted remote working, overall business-hours consumption and other areas, according to a report from OpenVault, a provider of cloud-based software-as-a-service solutions.

Average upstream traffic during typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. business hours was particularly strong, growing from 5.25 GB to 10.42 GB per subscriber per month as of December 2020, a 98.5% increase, the OpenVault Broadband Insights report stated. This was a much larger increase than downstream consumption experienced during the same period, as per-subscriber monthly downstream was up 51.74%, from 91.90 GB to 139.45 GB.

The upstream growth rate of 24% for the fourth quarter of 2020 alone was about 18% higher than per-subscriber, per-month upstream consumption for each of the previous two years, according to OpenVault’s study. 

The report, in the form of a whitepaper titled, “Pandemic Impact on Upstream Broadband Usage and Network Capacity” stated that the fast-rising demand for upstream traffic started around March 2020, when the pandemic began to close offices and schools, and many countries began broad lockdowns of non-essential activities. These changes in turn drove remote working, remote learning, entertainment and personal communication that “put significant pressure on operators’ significantly limited upstream capacity,” according to the report.

Furthermore, the top 1% of subscribers accounted for about 30% of all upstream usage, and the top 5% of subscribers accounted for more than 50% of upstream consumption. The created scenarios in which network operators during peak usage hours often saw a single subscriber account for more than 80% of available upstream capacity, according to the report, which also sizes up options that are available to broadband operators when only a few subscribers disproportionately impact the upstream experience for a much larger group of customers.

An earlier version of the OpenVault report from the middle of the last year noted that some of the upstream changes already were being seen in the second quarter of last year. Comcast also recently said upstream traffic on its own network increased 56% during 2020.

“Pandemic lockdowns changed the nature of upstream usage – in all likelihood, forever,” the report noted. “Continued high levels of remote work and a new embrace of videoconferencing for communication needs mean that consumption will pressure the limited upstream capacity of many broadband infrastructures. Moreover, the unique role of the upstream as an enabler of two-way communication makes unfettered performance essential.”

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The report outlined a number of different potential solutions for easing upstream bandwidth pressure, such as mid-splitter devices that can cost up to $35,000 per node, as well as a more targeted approach implemented by mid-sized operators in the U.S.