Repair the Ides Of March: COVID-19 Induced Adaption of Access Network Strategies (2020)

By Dr. Robert Howald, Comcast

The instant network stress test that resulted from COVID-19 is something the most precognizant of network engineers could not have foreseen. Even if they had, the most convincing of them would have little chance of swaying financial teams to increase investment for a traffic spike to come, and a ramp to all-time high sustained usage plateaus that would come in a matter of days.

Most importantly, the performance of the network during this most demanding and critical period shone alight on the industry in a way no press release, marketing campaign, or new service feature could.

Nothing was more essential to our customers than delivering their known services, on steroids, robustly and 24/7.

This paper will review the COVID-19 period in five parts. First, we look at the raw numbers as work from-home, school-from-home, zoom-from-home, and virtual happy hour became everyday behaviors.

We will review the data and applications, downstream and upstream, against network capabilities and explain why things went well and where there were challenges.

We will then look at the response from three perspectives. First, we will assess utilization metrics in the most challenged areas, evaluate vulnerabilities, and describe quick response actions that maintained network health.

Secondly, we discuss acceleration of near term initiatives to further enhance capacity in these areas, but also more broadly to address the national rising traffic tide.

Lastly, we will zoom out and discuss how the dynamics of 2020 effect the strategic network plan.

In the final part of the paper, we will discuss the “new normal” of usage, applications, and behaviors, and describe how network planners should consider them in strategy development. Among the silver linings of the pandemic is confirmation that the industry has been focusing on, and executing on, all of the right things over the years leading up to it, and the network is indeed prepared for scenarios that are, literally, beyond imagination.

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