What will the world look like when we return to “normal”?

That’s the question that’s driving broadband thinking as we begin to take the first tentative steps out of the COVID-19 tunnel.

For all broadband providers – whether they’ve committed to #BroadbandFirst strategies or not – the future of network traffic is subject to a growing list of variables: How many home-based workers will abandon offices once the dust settles? How much will the educational community embrace distance learning? Will families still simultaneously stream content to multiple devices when quarantines are eased? Will the magic of Zoom wane once in-person meetings are again allowed?

Through 10 years of aggregating and analyzing the data our solutions collect, we’ve come to be expected as the people with the answers but this time it’s not so easy. The pandemic changed streaming behavior by enforcing changes in how people were able to interact and introducing even the most steadfast traditionalists to the power of broadband. 

Here’s what we do know, as captured in our Q1 2020 OVBI report: As of April, the current crisis had driven average monthly usage past 440 GB, well above our year-end 2020 prediction of 425 GB.  As many operators have waived usage thresholds, growth in consumption among subscribers on usage based billing plans has outpaced growth of flat rate billing consumption by almost 5%. And while overall consumption has declined since late March, usage in operators’ more limited upstream plant has continued to remain high.

We’ve talked before about how the pandemic has compressed a year’s worth of broadband growth into just a few months.  As we begin to take the first tentative steps into the salons and onto the beaches, here is our take on how things will look in the months ahead:

  • Greater dependency on broadband from home networks is here to stay. Broadband subscriber growth hit a five-year high in Q1 and upgrades in speed tiers accelerated as consumers recognized the need to stay connected in isolation; we believe that neither new nor upgraded subscribers will be in a hurry to sacrifice connectivity or speed anytime soon.
  • The new normal will include significantly higher broadband usage trends. In a Gartner study with 317 CFOs and business leaders, 74% said they plan to move workers that previously had been onsite to permanently remote positions, and amidst the current crisis a growing number of consumers have exited pay-TV packages for online streaming. The implications for broadband networks are clear.
  • Broadband operators will need more real-time information to accommodate shifts in behavior and ensure that their networks can deliver the performance that will keep an increasing demanding public satisfied. This will include pro-active techniques to minimize and correct bottlenecks that impact service quality, distance diagnostics to quickly correct issues, and potential configurations to ensure availability, particularly in the upstream.

During the social distancing of the past several months, broadband has been the glue that has kept us in touch with friends, relatives and associates. It has brought us entertainment alternatives and has enabled many businesses and educational institutions to continue to function. 

We’d like to have all of the answers when the pendulum swings back and doors swing open but our view of the future is clouded by too many variables. The best we can say is there’s no going back to pre-pandemic usage levels, and operators need to make sure that their networks and systems support the increased traffic that will continue to flow.