Could coronavirus pandemic collapse the Internet?

With much of the world staying at home, Internet is experiencing an unprecedented surge in usage. Metro investigates how it adjusts to the new traffic patterns

The stay-at-home reality caused by the quarantine is likely here to stay for quite some time. And it has already generated concerns among those who think that the Internet may not be able to withstand the enormous data load caused by that.

According to British technology company Akamai, global traffic increased on Monday, March 16 by 56 per cent, compared to the cumulative average of the last 60 days.

On the other hand, E-CIX, the Internet exchange point operator, set a new world record for data transfer on the night of March 10 with more than 9.1 terabits per second.

AT&T, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the United States reported on March 31 that over the last three weeks its mobile network has seen significant increases in certain activities: a 33% in voice calls, 63% in instant messages, 41% in text messages and 4% increase in video playback.

The surge in Internet usage has also been reflected in video streaming, messaging, video conferencing, online classes and social media statistics.

For example, a recently conducted study discovered that we have spent much more time on social media since the novel coronavirus outbreak has started. As reported by The Influencer Agency, there has been a 76 per cent increase in daily accumulated likes on Instagram posts. The research has also found a 22% increase in Instagram campaign impressions and a 27% jump in TikTok engagement from February to March.

Experts believe that it is not the limit and the usage of the Internet could increase even further.

“Understandingly, usage of voice and data services on both fixed and mobile networks will skyrocket,” Paolo Pescatore, tech, media and telco analyst at PP Foresight, told Metro. “Over the next few weeks, usage will proliferate as more people work remotely and kids study at home.”

And that is why the concerns over the ability of the Web to withstand this overload, have emerged. So far, however, no major disruptions in global Internet service have been reported. Even in the EU, one of the most affected regions by the pandemic. The European Commission recently stated that while there has been a sharp increase, no disruptions or adverse effects have been spotted. But European Commissioner Thierry Breton, responsible for the EU internal market, has publically expressed concerns about the increase in the use of streaming platforms.

“Video is a bigger killer, given the huge amount of bandwidth required. And it’s not all about video streaming. There is also e-learning and remote video conferences, for example,” Pescatore added.

To solve the problem, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, YouTube and other Internet video platforms decided to cut the quality of streaming in Europe.

“The core backbones of the Internet are working well despite a huge increase in traffic. It’s hard to imagine any other utility (such as water, gas or electricity) being able to handle such a large change,” John Graham-Cumming, CTO at Cloudflare, the U.S. web infrastructure and website security company, emphasized.


However, Pescatore thinks that this special situation requires telecommunications companies to prepare:

“Telcos clearly need to brace themselves for an explosion of traffic over their networks. More needs to be done to stabilize the network.”

He concluded: «In these uncertain times, users should consider having a backup connection whether that be another SIM or data-only plan. This will help them tether to their other connected devices in the home.”


John Graham-Cumming,
CTO at Cloudflare

CTO de Cloudflare

Q: Is the quarantine affecting the capacity of the internet worldwide?
– No. The Internet was built for this, it was built to survive and it’s doing well.
Q: What if quarantine lasts for a longer time?
– We don’t think so. Looking at data for countries where the quarantine has been in place for a while we see a large increase and then a plateau at the new normal of high Internet use. Also, the Internet itself has plenty of spare capacity.

Q: What is the difference between the Web usage increase now and during big events as the Super Bowl or the Olympics?
– The big difference is that the increase is sustained day and night. It’s not a peak like with a popular event.

Q: If the Internet is not at risk, why did streaming services had to cut the quality?
– Because streaming video is one of the largest users of Internet bandwidth and while the Internet isn’t at risk some local networks (such as local broadband providers) may have difficulty. It all depends on their architecture and how they built their network. The UK’s broadband providers all say they are not worried at all.


These images show the change in Internet traffic during the day.

The green areas show where Internet usage has gone up during the workday, and the orange/red areas where it has dropped.

They show the effect of people working from home as people have left office areas and are using the Internet where they live.




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