In the last two weeks, due to social distancing measures, there has been a dramatic shift in the way we communicate and a business-critical need for smooth connectivity. This is because COVID-19 is changing the way we live and work, causing major disruption to daily life, business, and almost all industries. The number of cases continues to grow and governments are imposing tighter and tighter restrictions on the movement of people and daily activities. The upshot of this is more people staying home and working remotely.

As a result, there is a much heavier reliance on our network connections to keep us working. We can analyze both home and mobile usage patterns to fully understand the changes we are seeing. According to statistics from OpenVault, who specializes in the analysis of home broadband usage patterns, the downstream usage per customer in urban areas increased by 98.3% compared to three weeks ago.

For mobile, Verizon has seen a 75% increase in gaming, a 30% increase in the use of virtual private networks, and a 20% use in web traffic compared to just one week ago. AT&T’s CEO, Randall Stephenson also reported that mobile volumes were up 40% and WiFi calling volumes up 100%.

Such surges are the result of an absolute reliance on the network to allow all communication, including maintaining contact with clients and colleagues. Communication in these times is vital to keep businesses going, meaning there is a real responsibility being laid at the door of the operator.

 

Challenges for the operators

The main challenge posed to operators is managing the shift in the usage patterns. Whereas previously they would notice peak periods for remote access at certain times of the day, these peaks are now spread out across a greater portion of the day.

Vodafone says that the peak they used to notice for remote-access connectivity used to run from 18:00 – 20:00 and is now extending back to lunchtime. Operators remain confident that they can meet these demands and have the headroom to deliver the needed measures to increase bandwidth and guarantee connectivity.

Verizon CEO, Hans Vestberg detailed a shift in network usage. He states that the growth in network usage is moderate, but where it is being spent, and the types of applications have changed dramatically. That being said, he is confident that they have the network capacity to deal with the growth and changes. In a recent interview, he was quoted as saying, “We always have headroom in the network. If it’s the IP network, the wireless network, the fiber network or the wireless network, we have always built for being prepared for different types of changes in the network, and that’s why we’re coping so good so far.”

In Spain, the increase in traffic has also been dramatic. According to TelecomTV, traffic through IP networks has increased by 40%, mobile has increased by 50%, and voice has risen by 25%. Furthermore, traffic on remote working tools such as Skype and Webex has increased fourfold.

It is clear that the change in usage patterns has posed an interesting challenge for the operators, responding to network issues, increasing the bandwidth, or using it more efficiently.

 

Responding to the challenges

Operators have been quick to assure customers that there is plenty of bandwidth to manage the changing demands. This comes from a place of understanding that the population really is relying upon their connectivity to keep businesses moving as well as staying in touch with family and friends and alleviating boredom when the working day is done.

We have seen the Tier-one US operators agree to a connectivity pledge during the COVID-19 outbreak. These measures include waiving late fees, not terminating if customers are unable to pay their bills on time, and opening up WiFi hotspots around the country so Americans can stay connected.

Given the flexibility of the operators during this time, it would be wise for individuals not to abuse the network. Taking measures such as avoiding sending large files or limiting the amount of streaming will all contribute to a smoother network experience.

With so many people staying home and looking for entertainment in the evenings, streaming services are unsurprisingly seeing a surge in usage. As a result, in Europe, streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube have downgraded their video quality from high to standard definition to free up much-needed bandwidth.

 

The role of Assurance

Behind every stable network is a strong assurance solution, monitoring the service quality and triggering alarms when degradations occur. A dynamic service assurance solution that can be deployed on-demand will be a critical tool for operators needing to react to changing situations in the network in real-time. Utilizing AI and machine learning will also enable operators to analyze trends and automatically spot anomalies for root cause analysis.

Now more than ever, people are relying on their network connections to work as well as for recreation. Operators must make a shift from being reactive to proactive, troubleshooting and performing root cause analysis, ensuring problems are solved before the customer is even aware. AI and machine learning will also help deliver insights into encrypted traffic, helping to understand video streaming trends. This will help improve both communication tools as well as streaming sites.

This feeds into the overall customer and service experience. Operators will be keen to provide a high level of service when connectivity is so critical to keeping our economies moving. Without video, web conferencing, project management and chat tools businesses would grind to a halt. It is the operator’s role to ensure that people remain connected, and it is the role of service assurance to ensure that the connection is smooth and stable.

Operators have also been asked to cooperate with governments to help combat COVID-19 by tracking concentrations and movements in so-called “hot zones”. This data is generated via the assurance probes and the OSS feeds and is anonymized and aggregated to ensure that it complies with European privacy laws.

Service assurance will be vital in delivering the end-to-end network visibility that operators need to maintain a high level of service in a time where demand is greater than ever. To provide operators end-to-end visibility, service assurance probes need to be used throughout the service lifecycle, testing the service before it is introduced into the live network, as well as testing any upgrades and improvements once the service is launched.

 

Conclusion

Connectivity has never been so vital to keep to economy and businesses afloat. With people social distancing and working from home, new solutions for staying in touch are being utilized at a heavy mass. All of these create a strain on the network that operators need to support quickly.

The operators must always have a full understanding of what is happening in the network. They need to be able to proactively pinpoint and resolve issues before customers are even aware of them. This is where the role of Service Assurance is key. Delivering the all-important network visibility so operators can fix any problems that may arise before customers are aware, because, in these times, any degradations may affect businesses and individuals much more acutely. 

RADCOM has over 30 years of expertise delivering service assurance and network visibility solutions to operators and is the key to assuring network connectivity in these increased demand times. To learn more about RADCOMizing your network please click here.