Like the genie out of the bottle or the toothpaste out of the tube, there’s no going back now that consumers have discovered the true connective power of broadband. Monthly usage run rates of 460 GB per subscriber are putting new pressure on operator networks as operators stream more entertainment and engage in professional and personal video conferences.


Even though per subscriber usage rates have soared, especially during the 9-to-5 business hours, downstream pipes built for high peak activity have continued to have plenty of headroom. However, operators must pay close attention that upstream plant usage – largely caused by videoconferences, large file uploads and online gaming – does not stretch the upper limits of network capacity.


Whether or not operators have adopted a “Broadband First” strategy, the reality is that the usage patterns that have been shaped by COVID-19 quarantines are not going to be reversed once the crisis ebbs.  It’s likely that strict business policies against remote work will become more flexible and that distant families and friends will continue to use Zoom and other videoconferencing services to bring more personal dimensions to telecommunication.


If anything, consumption of upstream bandwidth is likely to accelerate as consumers and businesses implement next generation applications. Networks created primarily to accommodate downstream traffic will be tested by high-resolution images and videos for telehealth and telemedicine diagnostics, high-quality video uploads for producers working remotely and other bandwidth-gobbling uses. 


Absent new architectural configurations, operators will need to pay particular attention to upstream plant to ensure that performance isn’t impaired as usage rises. In the post-coronavirus world, monitoring abusive behavior in the upstream will be just as important as it already is in the downstream. Operators may also want to explore the ability of pricing and packaging mechanisms and their Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) to ensure that no one subscriber impairs the upstream experience for multiple customers.


Higher-than-expected traffic is here to stay. And while operator networks have performed well during the current crisis – NCTA estimates that elevated traffic has had no material impact on user experiences 99.6% of the time – more upstream applications are on the horizon. Operators will need to reexamine strategies to ensure that increased upstream usage can occur without impairing the outstanding experiences the industry has been delivering to its customers.