As shift in Internet traffic patterns has now stabilized, what really happened?

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By all indications, the shift in traffic patterns has now stabilized, and we can start to make some conclusions about what really happened:

  1. Mobile networks carried a higher load overall, with tethering up 50-70% for some. At a local level, cell sites in residential areas handled a lot more daytime traffic than usual. The typical "peak hours" for mobile data during commute hours were flattened out, with smoother demand through a 24-hour period.
  2. Data speeds dropped for many users. Ookla tests reported speed losses in the range of 10%-40% for mobile and fixed networks due to higher traffic demand. 
  3. Net Neutrality was a bad idea. Europe was forced to ask Netflix and YouTube to disable high-definition video, while US networks kept rolling along. I trace the difference directly to the 2018 decision by the FCC to reverse its policy on Net Neutrality... essentially opening up a two-year wave of American fiber investment.
  4. The cloud saved the economy from even deeper damage. Microsoft Azure reported 775% increase in daily cloud instances for countries that were locked down. We shut down half of the world’s economy, but the other half would have also shut down without the cloud.
  5. Voice traffic increased by 50% on mobile networks. In this way, mobile phones also saved half of our economy, as a basic enabler of working from home. Imagine a COVID shutdown in 1992, and fighting with your wife and your teenager for the landline phone.

[Joe Madden is principal analyst at Mobile Experts, a network of market and technology experts that analyze wireless markets]

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