The New Normal: Holiday-level Wi-Fi upload

Remember on Christmas Day when you’re at home and you turn on Skype or Zoom or FaceTime or something else to video-chat with your relatives perhaps for hours on end? Now every day is exactly like that in terms of home Wi-Fi traffic volume and usage patterns.

ASSIA is currently managing Internet and home network connectivity for over 125 million homes worldwide.  The effect on Wi-Fi of the near-global lockdown and working from home trend is clear: We are seeing much higher volumes of data traffic on Wi-Fi networks, much higher levels of interference on the 5 GHz band, and also many more complaints about the quality of uplink connections. Everyday use of residential Internet and Wi-Fi during times of stay-at-home working looks more like our usage patterns and volumes during holidays.

In the last ten days we have been contacted by multiple carriers and service providers to help troubleshoot connectivity issues brought about by the change in usage patterns for home Wi-Fi. The results of our investigations (with a sample size in the tens of millions) point to a uniformly steep rise in upload traffic – even across different geographies and network types – with the upload to download traffic ratio (see graphic at the top) up more than 60%. This represents a two-fold increase over the average usage pattern from before lockdown policies were introduced.

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Figure 1. 80% increase in PC/Phone upload traffic since the beginning of March.

With webcams, laptops, and PCs running video streams all the time home, Wi-Fi networks are uploading data like never before and a lot of teleconferencing, online education, and even telemedicine applications are not working properly due to network problems. Our indicators point to a major shift in usage behaviour: The total Wi-Fi upload traffic – mostly generated by gaming consoles, laptops and PCs – has increased by 80% since enforced stay-at-home policies (lockdown) began for most countries in early March (see graphic above).

Our data shows that the traditional weekday-weekend and time-of-day usage patterns have shifted. With video conferencing happening from home during the week, what used to be weekend traffic profiles are now taking place all through the week. We are also observing a 4-hour earlier start to peak upload traffic patterns during the day.

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Figure 2. Weekdays are now showing weekend level uplink use.

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Figure 3. Upstreaming behavior shows a 4-hour earlier start.

Network interference jumps

Add to this that radio network interference worsening as Wi-Fi becomes the dominant connection to the Internet. Recently FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has proposed that the US release the full 6 GHz band to unlicensed use – including Wi-Fi of course – based on the idea that existing Wi-Fi spectrum may soon be insufficient to support Wi-Fi traffic growth.

ASSIA’s findings on increased interference constitutes strong evidence in support of the proposed new spectrum policies of the FCC and Chairman Pai: Interference on the 2.4 GHz band was already high before the March lockdown but has since jumped another 10%. Even more remarkable is that interference on the 5 GHz band is up 30% since the start of the lockdown.

Network demand could lead to ‘premium home services’

Many home Wi-Fi service providers have been in need of effective home Wi-Fi management even before the lockdown. This need has now been greatly amplified and has changed in nature due to the increase in connectivity challenges for teleconferencing type applications, which are critical to the continuation of our productive lives during the lockdown. Carriers design and provision networks based on assumptions about usage and the mix of upstream and downstream traffic. We are now seeing shifts in traffic profiles that mandate a fundamental change in those assumptions.

But the behavior stressing networks in the short term will also drive demand for improved access technologies in the medium term. We could soon see the emergence of a new class of service, such as for example a premium residential service. Such services might be similar to what is today offered as enterprise-grade connectivity and would be targeted to serve work-from-home devices. The ability to identify, monitor, and prioritize such devices will become increasingly important from now on.

View or download our New Normal infographic: