opinion


What the global pandemic has taught us about communications infrastructure

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Bruce McClelland, CEO of Ribbon, looks at what a great job the telecoms industry has done of dealing with the current unique circumstances.

Before the global pandemic that has upended our lives in multiple ways, Verizon’s daily message traffic would peak at around nine billion text messages on New Year’s Eve, traditionally its busiest day of the year. Now, nine billion messages every day has become the operator’s new-normal.

Covid-19 is rewriting the record books. Communications networks that used to see spikes in traffic levels on signature days and occasions are now managing those peak traffic levels almost every day. As the world reorganizes to cope with the effects of a global pandemic, the transition of so many activities online, from work to school to family catch-ups, is driving a constant surge of online activity and peak network traffic.

The pandemic has served to underscore the importance of connectivity and the underlying infrastructure that enables and supports it. Today’s networks, and the collaboration applications that run over them, are highly advanced and, for the most part, operators have been able to provide the constant high bandwidth and network availability required by businesses, governments, schools and parents. It’s a remarkable feat.

How the pandemic impacted network traffic

By early April last year, Verizon was reporting that its customers were making 800 million wireless calls per day, more than double the volume of calls it typically sees on Mother’s day, usually its highest annual peak for voice calls. What’s more, those calls were also lasting 33% longer than usual.  The same month, fellow US provider AT&T reported Wi-Fi calling patterns that rose as much as 105% higher than usual.

These peaks were happening elsewhere too – UK telecoms provider Virgin Media saw daily data usage surge by 3.4 GB per customer and weekly upload levels increased by 3.7 GB per customer between February and June 2020. Meanwhile Vodafone Ghana says that data traffic has increased 50% during the pandemic.

Of course, the shift to distributed workforces has also led to a huge uptick in the use of collaboration and videoconferencing tools that rely on IP connectivity. Microsoft Teams saw a 475% increase in daily active users in less than a year, while Zoom saw its daily users surge 1,900% between December 2019 and April 2020.

Meeting traffic surges with software

You can’t cope with this sort of surge unless flexibility, scalability, and reliability have been built into the network, and that inevitably means a software-led approach.  The capability of software-led networks has been vital in helping service providers and their enterprise customers adapt to the ever-changing requirements of these unprecedented times.

Lockdown life generated a boom in online activity and a subsequent rise in IP network interconnects and SIB PBX trunking applications. This puts a much greater demand on call processing, routing, optical capacity and the overall bandwidth of available connectivity.

The software-led, cloud-native capabilities of modern networks enabled both the high capacity and the low latency connectivity that was required to cope with the surge in traffic – especially the unified commuications traffc generated by programs such as Teams and Zoom.

Corporate organizations the world over, maintain “Risk Registers’ or similar documents that highlight the potential threats to their business, the likelihood of their occurrence, and the seriousness of the potential impact – as well as the measures their organization would take to mitigate any damage and recover.

A global health scare, such as the current pandemic, undoubtedly figured on many such registers. But I seriously doubt many firms believed any such threat would last as long as the current pandemic, or that it might lead to a permanent change in the way their business operated.  And I also wonder how many of those firms had recognized that having a modern, cloud-based network supporting unified communications systems and collaboration tools installed as standard across their enterprise would be so vital to maintaining their long-term business operations.

Build a network designed for disruption

The COVID-19 outbreak has served to illuminate the strength and resilience of those modern networks.  For many large corporation, the new normal, remote-working way of life, would not be sustainable without the flexibility to surge their network capacity when faced with challenges such as Covid-19 global pandemic.

Those organizations that had already invested in their networks and embraced the cloud as an enabler, undoubtedly found the transition to remote working easier to introduce and will likely emerge from this pandemic in stronger shape because of their software-driven approach.

 

Bruce is a technical business leader with a proven history of developing and growing sustainable, profitable businesses through technology and business cycles. Before joining Ribbon, Bruce was CEO at ARRIS and led its sale to CommScope, where he served as COO. During his tenure at ARRIS, Bruce held multiple leadership positions and had a key role in the successful acquisition and integration of multiple companies including Ruckus, Pace and the Motorola Home Business. Bruce began his career at Bell Northern Research and held several leadership roles at Nortel. He has served on the boards of ARRIS and Benu Networks, and actively supports the Georgia Cystic Fibrosis chapter.


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