Lockdown measures instituted to combat the spread of COVID-19 have caused a surge of around 30 per cent in internet traffic in the last month, according to data from Akamai, a company responsible for serving a significant amount of online content.

“I’ve been looking at traffic graphs for over 20 years now and I can’t recall seeing anything like this,” Akamai co-founder and CEO Dr Tom Leighton said today.

Leighton said it is not unusual for internet traffic to spike in holiday periods or for certain major sporting events, also noting traffic on Akamai platforms typically grows slightly above the general rate. But Leighton said never before has such a large increase lasted so long, describing the impact of COVID-19 as “an extraordinary period in internet history”.

During an Akamai virtual Summit today Leighton showed graphs based on traffic on Akamai platforms. The company’s platforms are reportedly responsible for delivering between 15-30 per cent of all internet traffic.

In one example of the internet traffic of China, Japan, Korea and Italy – countries among the earliest to lockdown their populations to fight COVID-19 – traffic growth jumped 30 per cent year in a month compared to the rest of the world.

Source: Akamai

By early March growth rates returned to normal not because internet use in those countries decreased but because the rest of the world caught up as more counties required citizens to stay home.

Based on peak traffic, internet usage is more than doubling at the busiest times.

“The peak traffic in March in 2020 on our platform was 167 terabits per second,” Leighton said. “You compare that to March of 2019 [when] it was less than half. So we’re seeing our peak traffic more than double year-over-year.

“Incredible, incredible growth rates of traffic.”

According to Leighton traffic is typically dominated by “big media”, things like streaming video and software downloads, including gaming.

“Of course a lot of people are stuck inside. So they’re playing more games, they’re downloading more gaming software. And of course, every time you do an update on your gaming software, the amount of traffic you generate is about the same as 30,000 web pages.”

Online transactions are also booming as more people shop and transact online. Leighton said his data showed a 30 per cent increase in transactions in one month.

Source: Akamai

Leighton said the internet should be able to sustain the increased traffic by better managing downloads and using edge solutions like those offered by Akamai to ease congestion in data centres. 

“But even then, in some cities and some networks, we’re seeing a lot of pressure on the carrier. And so that’s why you see some of the headlines about some of the video companies cutting the quality of their streaming to reduce traffic.”

Australia’s NBN is currently handling the increase well, according to the ACCC, thanks to a temporary increase in capacity from the NBN Co.

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