Coronavirus Impact: Can We Run Out of the Internet Because of People Working From Home?

With offices around the world moving to work from home, could rising traffic take the Internet down? Here’s what you need to know in 10 points.

Coronavirus Impact: Can We Run Out of the Internet Because of People Working From Home?

Iis an actual failure possible? Can we actually "run out of the Internet?"

  • Indian Internet providers have said they are up to the task
  • Steps being taken to scale down the demand
  • We're likely to see the demand rise further

More people are working from home than ever before, and along with work, we're also streaming more and playing more video games. Schools and colleges are also turning to videoconferencing. The Web makes all of this possible, but there have been fears that the increased demand could actually take the Internet down. Indian Internet providers have said they are up to the task, but there are some steps being taken to scale down the demand that is being placed on it to ensure that the networks stay active. We're likely to see the demand rise further as the holdouts in offices and educational institutions go online, but so far, networks have been able to cope with the requirements.

But is an actual failure possible? Can we actually “run out of the Internet?” And if that isn't the case, why is it that all video services are cutting the bandwidth that they're using?

  1. In India, we've seen a big shift in how people are using the Internet over the last week and a half. More people working from home also means more people streaming videos from the Internet and using up a lot more data than they normally would.
  2. While the 'Internet' in itself wont really run out of bandwidth, the shift of bandwidth from work spaces to homes is leading to 'brownouts' (choke points). 
  3. Home data pipes aren't built for very heavy simultaneous online consumption (irrespective of designated speeds allocated by ISP's) unlike enterprise level work data pipes and thus do get into problems due to last mile connectivity issues. The same is true for home Wi-Fi routers.
  4. There has been a huge increase in traffic for collaboration platforms like Slack, Teams, and Zoom. According to reports, Microsoft Teams grew from 32 million to 44 million daily users, while Cisco's Webex collaboration service saw demand during peak hours shoot up 24 times from where it would normally be. Zoom has been adding new infrastructure to cope with increased demand, and Slack said that it was seeing a surge in the use of its free service.
  5. In response to increased demand, companies are also saying that they will take steps to reduce bandwidth use. Netflix agreed to reduce bandwidth use by 25 percent and other Indian services also said they will take similar steps. Hotstar was the exception, as it said the majority of its users don't make use of high-definition streams anyway.
  6. Facebook India also issued a statement that it is reducing the bit rates for videos on both Facebook and Instagram, a step it has also taken in Europe in Latin America. A spokesperson said that the company is working with partners to manage bandwidth constraints during heavy demand.
  7. The impact of this kind of demand could see slowdowns and even outages at the local level — your building, neighbourhood, or even at the regional level could be affected, but the Internet backbone is not going to be affected. On a global basis, the Internet will stay on.
  8. Another problem at the local level is that with fewer people coming to work at ISP and bandwidth providers technical centres, connection and bandwidth related problems may not get resolved quickly and efficiently. 
  9. Increase work from home, streaming, gaming, and teleconferencing in schools and colleges will strain home routers, private networks, and even local Internet Service Providers.
  10. This means that crucial sites could get slow down significantly, or even become unresponsive. A local shut down could affect government sites providing essential information, or worse, disconnect critical services at a time when they're needed the most.

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