Comcast details what the coronavirus has done to network traffic

Comcast said that internet traffic has risen 32% because of the coronavirus, but the company said it has the capacity to handle peak traffic demands in the U.S.

Tony Werner, Comcast president of technology, said in a press briefing that the company normally adds capacity 12 months to 18 months ahead of time, with typical plans targeting 45% a year increases in traffic.

“First and foremost, I think it’s important to know that the network is performing well,” Werner said. “And people are able to — both business and customers working from home — do the things they need to do with a great deal of proficiency.”

He said the company engineers the networks for “peak traffic,” and that traffic is up more than 32% overall as of last week. Some parts of the country are up 60%, including Seattle, San Francisco, and now Chicago.

“Seattle and San Francisco is where we experienced this first,” Werner said.

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The shift of workers from offices to working from home has caused a lot of changes in how the network is being used.

Call of Duty: Warzone

Above: Don’t blame Call of Duty: Warzone for your internet woes.

Image Credit: Activision

Companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Google, and others have their personnel working from home, and their employees use the network intensively, sending files back and forth and using video conferencing, Werner said.

Most people are opting for voice calls, rather than video calls, from home. The company said that digital voice home use is up 65% as people need high-quality voice on work calls. The peak used to be 9 p.m. at night, but it is moving up to 7 p.m. or 8 p.m., as people aren’t commuting or stopping to meet friends. That’s for downstream traffic like watching shows.

Upstream traffic used to peak at 9 p.m., but now that is moving to daytime across the county, Werner said. Around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. is the typical peak now for upstream traffic.

New game releases and theatrical releases will cause bumps, but the traffic growth is starting to level off. Video conference calls using the voice-over-internet-protocol on Comcast are up 212% since March 1.

Virtual private network (VPN) traffic is up close to 40%. Entertainment usage on the weekend is up with all customers.

“We are seeing gaming downloads up 50% to 80% depending on new releases,” Werner said.

As for usage, Werner said there is a “pretty good tick up” in downloading of games since March 1. Call of Duty: Warzone and another big game made usage go up 80%, with most of that traffic happening at night.

That is traffic that is associated not with gameplay (which doesn’t consume that much bandwidth), but with downloading of the files for new games. Video on demand traffic is up 25% from a year ago. Voice queries are topping 50 million per day.

Werner said it is a misconception that you can’t do a Zoom conference while someone is playing a game at the same time. He also said Comcast is not asking users to throttle back their usage.

Wi-Fi is also skyrocketing. People are connecting smartphones to Wi-Fi. There is a 10% decline in LTE or cellular data, while there is a 24% increase in mobile data over Wi-Fi, which now handles 18 times the amount of mobile data versus cell phone networks.

“We continue to micro-manage the network,” Werner said.

A lot of people are setting up new home offices and they probably need help with things like the range of the networks.

“The backbone network is humming well,” Werner said. “Obviously, we are being cautious because there is more of this to come at us.”

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