Verizon: U.S. network usage starts to normalize as subscribers settle into new routines

After weeks of unprecedented increases in voice and data traffic from millions of people working from home, network usage is starting to normalize, according to Verizon's latest report.

Among other items, the latest Verizon Network Report, which was issued on Thursday, reported a 5% week-over-week decline in virtual private networks (VPNs) usage.

“While usage in key categories is still up compared to a typical day, the large increases we saw over the first four weeks of this transition have started to normalize,” said Verizon CTO Kyle Malady in a statement. “While we are still in an unprecedented situation and are monitoring the network extremely closely 24x7, we may be seeing the tail end of the large variations in customer usage behaviors we have seen the last few weeks.”

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Thursday's report also showed week-over-week declines for downloads of songs and apps (-1%) along with web (-2%), social media (-8%) and voice minutes of use (-5%.) There were no changes week-over-week for video streaming and only a slight increase in gaming (4%.) On-demand movie viewing was up 32% compared to typical pre-COVID-19 average weekly viewing numbers.

Source: Verizon

Nokia Deepfield sees flattening of network traffic increases

Verizon's insights largely mirrored those of Nokia Deepfield's latest research, which also came out on Thursday. Peak network traffic continued to increase across all regions, mainly due to increases in video streaming and video conferencing, but the increases have started to taper off, according to a blog by Craig Labovitz, chief technology officer for Nokia Deepfield.

After countries such as Spain and Italy were locked down, Nokia Deepfield saw weekday peak traffic increases of over 45% and in some cases over 50%, and weekend evening peak traffic increases of 20% to 40% over their pre-lockdown levels.

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"Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen flattening growth, where most networks in lockdown showed modest or no growth over the previous week," according to Labovitz.

With that said, the most recent weekend peak traffic volumes are still at least 20% to 30% over pre-pandemic levels.

In some U.S. networks, upstream traffic increased 30% over pre-pandemic levels, largely due to the sweeping growth in video conferencing and the use of collaboration tools, which need higher upstream bandwidth to the cloud. With the home-bound workforces, Nokia Deepfield also noted an increase in Microsoft Office Suite upstream traffic.

Looking at weekend traffic increases across all of March, the networks in Europe have largely stabilized, but are still well above their pre-coronavirus levels.

For a select number of networks in the U.S., Nokia Deepfield said it seemed that the largest networks experienced the most substantial growth and, in some of them, the growth of the weekend peak traffic continued, exceeding the pre-pandemic levels anywhere between 20% and 30%.

"In Latin American networks, we saw some steep declines in the demand toward the end of the month, but generally, weekend peak traffic has grown over 20% in all the networks we observed," according to Labovitz. "Here, like in the U.S., the largest networks experienced the most substantial increase in weekend peak traffic."

Nokia Deepfield also reported distributed denial of service (DDoS) traffic was up by more than 40%, which could be due to a significant rise in gaming-related DDoS attacks.

"Peak traffic continues to increase in all regions, mainly as a result of streaming video and videoconferencing traffic, but the increases are slowing," Labovitz concluded. "Networks seem to be handling these increases well."