The past year has shown us how critical high-speed, reliable connectivity is in our lives. New industry data released March 15 by mainstream data providers Comcast and AT&T explains this in vivid detail. By any measure, the internet usage numbers in 2020 were astounding.
For example, AT&T expects its network traffic to increase upwards of 5X during the next five years, with the majority of customers expected to consume an average of more than 4.6TB of data–and that’s for each person.
As a result, AT&T has revealed its game plan to prepare for that rocket-like growth.
Fiber deployment: The company is expanding its broadband internet service via fiber to more than 3 million residential and business locations in more than 90 metro areas in 2021. Fiber technology not only offers faster upload speeds and more bandwidth than cable, it expands the capacity of the AT&T 5G network, which relies on the availability of wired infrastructure to transmit data.
5G network: During the recent C-band auction, AT&T secured 80mhz of spectrum and a 29 percent share of the available licenses. The company plans to deploy this mid-band spectrum starting at the end of the year. AT&T’s 5G network currently covers 230 million Americans in 14,000 cities and towns, and AT&T 5G+ is now available in parts of 38 cities across the U.S.
AT&T’s 2021 5G plans include:
- Sports/Entertainment: AT&T plans to deploy 5G+ in 17 venues across the country by the end of 2021 including stadiums, arenas and practice facilities. This will bring its total to 40+ 5G-connected venues, the company said.
- Education: AT&T is committed to bring 5G to numerous university campuses across the country, including University of Miami, Purdue University and others by the end of 2021.
- First Responders: Currently, first responders in Houston are experiencing the early benefits of 5G+ on FirstNet. In 2021, public safety will be able to take advantage of AT&T’s 5G+ in a way that meets their unique mission needs.
- Travel/Transportation: On the heels of launching 5G at Tampa International Airport, AT&T will launch 5G+ at an additional seven airports by the end of the year.
- Retail: More than 30 company-owned retail locations will get 5G+ by the end of the year.
- Unlimited plans: Customers on any of AT&T’s consumer unlimited wireless plans get access to AT&T 5G and 5G+ at no extra cost.
More information related to this announcement can be found here.
Comcast experiencing big, big user numbers
As the world approaches the one-year anniversary of the widespread pandemic stay-at-home shift (March 16 in California and other states), 2020 traffic patterns reveal a sharp traffic surge in March and April, followed by a transition into a more typical–although still elevated–growth trend throughout the balance of the year.
“The internet was a bright spot during the darkest hours of 2020, keeping hundreds of millions of people connected to work, school, entertainment, and most importantly, each other,” Tony Werner, President of Technology, Product, Xperience at Comcast Cable, said in a media advisory. “We’re proud of the years of strategic investment and innovation that enabled us to build the foundation of a high-speed, intelligent network designed to scale to the needs of our most demanding users, and also adapt to unexpected events.”
2020 for Comcast at a glance:
- Peak internet traffic rose 32 percent over pre-pandemic levels, and over 50 percent in some markets in March. Peak downstream traffic in 2020 increased approximately 38 percent over 2019 levels and peak upstream traffic increased approximately 56 percent over 2019 levels.
- Despite the growth in upstream traffic, traffic patterns remained highly asymmetrical, as downstream traffic volumes were 14x higher than upstream traffic volumes throughout 2020.
- In the span of four months in the wake of pandemic lockdowns, Comcast’s network experienced almost two years’-worth of traffic growth.
- Surprisingly, despite increases in videoconferencing activity, entertainment activities continued to dominate network traffic, with video streaming accounting for 71 percent of all downstream traffic, and growing by 70 percent over 2019 levels.
- Other key drivers of downstream traffic in 2020 were online gaming and the accompanying software downloads (10 percent), and web browsing (8 percent). Despite growth in videoconferencing traffic, it still only accounted for less than 5 percent of overall network usage.
- For the first time ever, as Comcast customers surfed, streamed and emailed more than ever before, they generated more than a trillion internet requests (DNS lookups) each day. Throughout this increase in demand, Comcast continued to deliver above-advertised speeds to customers across the country, including in areas most affected by COVID-19. The remarkable performance of the network during this time can be attributed both to outstanding work by technical and care teams throughout the pandemic and to key innovations and billions of dollars in strategic investment for many years before the pandemic began:
- From 2017 through 2020, Comcast invested more than $15 billion to expand, strengthen and evolve its network.
- From 2017 through 2020, the company built an additional 39,153 route miles of fiber into the network, and made thousands of capacity augments from the core of our network all the way down to individual neighborhoods.
- Comcast engineers built multiple new smart software platforms–powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning–that can detect and fix problems before they affect customers.
- One of those software platforms, Comcast Octave–the completion of which was accelerated by Comcast engineers in response to the pandemic–enabled Comcast to increase upstream capacity by up to 36 percent, right at the time when traffic levels began to surge.