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Home internet and COVID-19

Chris Enger |

The impact of COVID-19 on internet

With each passing day, the impact of COVID-19 on our day to day life is becoming more severe. It’s pertinent then, to ask what will this mean for your home internet connection. Clearly the virus itself is not going to physically affect your internet connection, but how it changes human behaviour (working from home, social isolation etc.) may mean changes for how your internet service performs.

Cloudflare, a global leader in network security, performance and analytics, has reported significant rises in internet traffic due to COVID-19 across the world in its blog. In Italy, which has been locked down since 9 March, traffic has increased between 20-40%. Historically we’ve seen internet traffic grow on average by 30% over the course of a year. The fact that a year’s internet traffic growth has happened in the space of a few days is going to place significant stress on the internet globally, and on Australian internet in particular.

Why Australia’s internet model might cause congestion

Australia is unique in the wholesale network model that operates, and how this is priced. In this country we have network providers (NBN, Opticomm, LBNCo etc.) who provide the physical connection into your house. They get your internet data from your house to the Leaptel network.

Each network provider charges us slightly differently for this process, but the underlying principles are the same. Leaptel pays a port fee for your service to be active, and then we purchase collective bandwidth called Connectivity Virtual Circuit (CVC) across a pool of customers in a geographic area that all customers share to get your data from that port to us.

If bandwidth demands increase then your internet service provider needs to purchase more CVC from the wholesale network provider to ensure customers continue to experience a good quality of service. Leaptel has calculated that in 2019, to meet the 30% increase in data demand, the cost to deliver a service to a customer increased by $5 per month. Yet the price of Leaptel services have not risen; indeed for some plans such as the Accelerated speed tier (50Mbps/20Mbps) the price has dropped by $10.

What can be done?

Fortunately, NBN has been decreasing the overall cost of CVC over time to keep up with customer demand, ensuring that we are not placed in the scenario where we’d have to increase prices for our customers.

To come back to COVID-19, the challenge posed is that the sudden increase of 20-40% bandwidth means higher cost to internet services providers. There’s only 3 choices available here:

  1. Internet service providers absorb the cost increase at a time when margins on residential services are already very small or non-existant;
  2. Internet service providers don’t increase their CVC purchases in line with customer use, resulting in a poor experience for customers;
  3. Wholesale network providers adjust the cost of CVC to meet the increase in demand.

Discussions are underway across the Australian telecommunications industry to address this concern. NBN is already considering what steps it can take to address this situation on its network.

What can you do?

In the meantime, individuals can look out for the internet network more broadly by considering how their internet use impacts others.

We would strongly encourage people to avoid downloading new applications, games, software updates and other large files between 7pm – 11pm. This is the busiest time of internet use and large downloads will impact on real-time applications such as video streaming, online gaming and general internet use.

Furthermore, if you’re using 4K streaming, drop the streaming quality down to HD. This will reduce your bandwidth utilisation for the video stream by more than 50%

If you do need to download large amounts of data, try and schedule your downloads to occur from midnight until 12pm the next day. This is an ideal time from a network perspective to download as network utilisation is lowest during these times.

We are currently living in unprecedented times, and we never imagined we’d be asking our customers to consider their internet use like this, but the alternative is a poor experience for everyone.

Update 19/03/2020 – NBN has announced that it will make changes that address some of the concerns raised in this blog post, effective from this coming Monday 23 March.
We continue to talk with Opticomm and LBNCo about what steps they will implement to assist with the increased bandwidth use we are seeing.

Update 25/03/2020 – Opticomm is providing increased bandwidth to internet service providers for free over the next three months. This very generous offer by Opticomm means that Leaptel customers will be able to continue to enjoy high speeds and relability while at home.