The Online Pandemic: how COVID-19 drove dramatic data demand

Written by Stephen Davies, chief technology officer of Opticomm.

Unless you live off the grid, you will likely surmise that the months that followed March drove demand for internet, video calls and technology the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

Australia’s suddenly insatiable demand for buffer-less streaming, reliable video conferencing and instantaneous downloads, drove unprecedented surges in usage across Australia’s NBN and private networks, including ours.

In March, an average of 225 gigabits per second (Gbps) traversed our network’s fibres each week. In April that rose to an average of 253 Gbps, an increase of 10 per cent, which culminated in a 14 per cent increase on Good Friday; proving the country’s dependence on broadband grew as lockdown measures came into effect.

Weekday traffic in April also increased by a massive 60 per cent during midday hours when compared with March data, reflecting the growing work-from-home environment. Internet traffic remained high throughout the day with a peak at around 8pm, as families turned to streaming for their primary means of entertainment.

This growing demand for data didn’t ease alongside the first round of lockdown restrictions; usage in May settled at ~10 per cent above the pre-COVID baseline, and June exceeded all of the previous months, up to 255 Gbps.

August once again saw new highs, as the correlative relationship between downstream network utilisation and Melbourne’s rising COVID-19 case numbers continued, with utilisation rising to an average of 291 Gbps, alongside the implantation of stage 4 restrictions.

October’s downstream network utilisation has now settled at just below 300 Gbps, significantly higher than the 225 Gbps average seen seven months earlier in March.

The pandemic was responsible for many things, one of which being a change in the way we consume and use the internet. In fact it managed to fast-track one of the fastest cultural and technological shifts in our modern history – what was once considered a luxury item is now non-negotiable.

Priorities for consumers have shifted; residents of new communities are increasingly opting for high-speed internet connections, integrated internet-enabled home entertainment and the newest technology to stay connected, with many going out of their way to select homes in new housing estates that have the necessary fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) hardware that can cope with their data demands.

Anecdotally, our team at Opticomm is hearing more customers are going to move to regular work-from-home arrangements in the post-COVID era, because their home broadband connection has allowed them to do so.

Our work with Broadacre communities has evolved from straightforward internet connection to state-of-the-art ‘smart city’ technologies, equipping them with services like high-speed Wi-Fi in public parks, community television stations, interconnected CCTV security systems, smart city amenity management, state-of-the-art home entertainment and more.

At retirement resort developer GemLife’s projects for example, Opticomm’s high download speeds have enabled an estate-wide, dedicated television station designed to keep residents in the loop with all relevant news from their community and beyond.

The television stations broadcast “what’s on” and other local community content residents, further embodying the small-town feeling that is now amplified by online the community,

In addition to these television stations, Opticomm has just struck a deal with the BBC and Lendlease Retirement Living that will see three channels, BBC UKTV, BBC First and BBC Earth, broadcast to residents for free.

These channels further reduce the distance between international residents and news from the other side of the world, helping them stay in touch with the events taking place in their country of origin.

Growing dependence on the internet has driven an insatiable need for increased speed, which motivated Opticomm to research, develop and finesse a one gigabit per second service.

The super-speed service will be released later in 2020, with its inception further reducing the perceived distance between people and their friends and family.

While it remains to be seen whether internet usage will stabilise or whether this surge will become the ‘new normal’, what remains unequivocally true is that the way we connect with our families, work colleagues, employers and friends, has been altered for good.

Now it’s up to us to work hand-in-hand with this best-in-class technology and developers around the country, to ensure Australia’s fibre hardware can adapt to the new challenges and future-proof our communities as our internet needs become irrevocably more complex.