Since the outbreak of COVID-19, demand for data use and broadband capacity has skyrocketed and will continue to rise. Network operators have been dealing with this challenge successfully – the virus didn’t break the Internet. Still, these uncertain times necessitate a change in how network operators think about planning, designing, and maintaining broadband networks at present and in the immediate future. In our opinion, the most important areas of impact are:
Eliminating digital divide.
The pandemic has highlighted the urgency of eradicating the digital divide. There are still millions of Americans without high-speed Internet access needed for work, education, health, leisure, etc. Government agencies are stepping up by releasing more funding, such as CAF and RDOF, and expanding eligibility to include non-traditional providers like electric utilities. We believe that this pandemic will necessitate making broadband a regulated utility, which in turn will increase options and availability for future funding and regulations.
Planning for higher capacity.
Network operators are consistently analyzing traffic on their network to understand its capacity. With an increase in demand during lockdowns, network providers need to forecast and plan ahead to make sure they are meeting the growing demand of their customers.
Rethinking minimum service levels.
With multiple devices, streaming services, telecommuting, e-learning, smart homes, high-bandwidth apps, etc., all in the same household, there will be reevaluation for the requirements of the minimum bandwidth. Our guess is, 25 Mb/s downstream, which is the minimum speed qualified as broadband by FCC, won’t be enough anymore.
Making broadband affordable.
The pandemic hit families and businesses hard. With so many Americans out of work, network operators have risen to the occasion by making the pledge to Keep America Connected, opening up free Wi-Fi hotspots, offering discounts and even free services to those who can’t afford them.
We don’t know yet what the new normal will be, but what we do know is that the pandemic has put network performance and operation to the test. Perhaps you were able to identify areas of weakness or areas of opportunity during this time. Either way, we all have work to do: planning, building, and maintaining your networks so that everyone can stay connected is now not just a business, but a pledge.