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Governments around the world have instituted lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Citizens have been encouraged, and in some cases required, to refrain from leaving home to work, attend school, college or university, or for entertainment and socializing. The result has been a dramatic increase in communications traffic. Wholesale carriers are the unsung enablers of the retail communications services that enable populations to remain working, and being educated and entertained in their own homes.

Backbones are taking the strain but local access pinch points remain
Before the pandemic took hold, carriers experienced traffic peaks in the evening as people returned home from school and work to surf the web, stream video, and play online games. However, that pattern has changed as local and national governments enforce “shelter at home” policies. Enterprise traffic that was previously carried on corporate WANs during the workday is now being carried over the public internet. Adults and children have turned to video streaming and download services, online games, and video calling their friends and family.

CenturyLink has seen a 25% increase in gaming traffic, with download traffic up 26% and video traffic up 13% in the past month. Colt has reported significant increases in the capacity used by its voice and data services – in some instances up to 20 times normal capacity. Verizon has also seen a pronounced uplift in domestic and international voice minutes over the past two weeks. Instead of the evening peak, high traffic volumes have been observed throughout the day.

Global wholesalers are also observing geographic shifts in traffic patterns. A lot of wireline and wireless traffic has migrated from the urban locations where large sections of the population were employed to the suburban and rural areas where people live and are now trying to work and keep entertained. Carriers are also seeing an increased number of cyberattacks and fraud attempts. The volume of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks has risen, as have the numbers of malware and ransomware attacks. Wholesalers are acting to protect themselves, their customers, and partners.

Although carriers have built their backbone networks to carry peak traffic loads, wireline and wireless access networks do not always have the capacity to handle these new traffic volumes. Much is being done to ease the pressure on those last-mile networks. Governments and regulators are increasing the availability of spectrum to MNOs. Content owners, including Netflix and YouTube, have reduced the quality of their streamed video to reduce the traffic load of their services. Wholesale carriers are also doing what they can to adjust to the new normal. They are reassigning resources from product development to network operations, support, and maintenance. Carriers are also bringing additional capacity online and their staff in network operations centers (NOCs) and security operations centers (SOCs) are constantly monitoring traffic and threat patterns to keep networks running efficiently and effectively.

Wholesalers are often the unsung enablers of retail communications services that make it possible for everyone to work from home, keep informed and entertained, and maintain our networks of friends and family.