Managing the Coronavirus Bandwidth Surge: How to Cope with the Spikes and Long-term Growth (2020)

By John Ulm & Dr. Thomas Cloonan, CommScope

“With all due respect, sir, I believe this will be our finest hour.” That quote from the movie Apollo 13 is strangely appropriate for what happened with the broadband industry after a global lockdown at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Coronavirus pandemic turned the whole world upside down, with entire countries forcing their population to live, work, learn and play from home. There was a year’s worth of bandwidth growth (or more) in a 2-week interval. The broadband industry held its breadth to see how our broadband infrastructure would cope.

Broadband kept society and the economy running (as best we can) in these hard times. This is arguably its most significant contribution to society in its short life-span. Hats off to everyone who has created and helped make broadband and the Internet available to society.

In this paper, the bandwidth (BW) impact to our broadband networks from around the globe is reviewed and showed how it was handled. The upstream got crunched much more than the downstream. Network capacity planning was key to having sufficient headroom to withstand an unexpected jolt. Some network capacity guidelines are reviewed and show how the Quality of Experience (QoE) level varies with different margins.

For those severely congested networks, some helpful tips when in crisis are provided. These overnight quick fixes can give a little breathing room until more permanent capacity can be added. The relative merits of some near-term solutions to deploy over coming months are discussed. These include: more DOCSIS channels, especially OFDM/OFDMA, more CCAP ports, segment congested nodes, rapidly increase DOCSIS 3.1 (D3.1) modem penetration, and deploying Wi-Fi 6 services.

Some bandwidth projections and mid- to long-term migration strategies are reviewed that operators should consider moving forward before the next bandwidth surge hits. These include: Migrate to 1218/85 or 1218/204 MHz plant today, with a transition to DOCSIS 4.0 over time; reduce legacy Video QAMs using IPTV/SDV/compression; Fiber Deeper; DAA; and Wi-Fi 6E. It is more important than ever to plan and start to implement our long-term strategies like 10G, especially for the upstream – cable’s Achilles heel.

Finally, the longer-term impact of the pandemic is considered. What is the new normal? We don’t expect bandwidth levels to ever go back to pre-COVID days. We’ll touch on how user’s behavior patterns changed and what new applications had the door opened.

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