Comcast’s top technologist, Tony Werner, said peak internet traffic has increased as much 60% in places like San Francisco and Seattle. But the cable company’s network has so far had more than enough capacity to handle the sudden increase in usage brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The network is performing well,” Werner said during an afternoon conference call with reporters, orchestrated on a remote basis, with Comcast keeping employees at its Philadelphia headquarters at home.
Werner, who serves as president of technology, product and experience for Comcast Cable, said overall peak network usage has increased 32% across Comcast’s national network. Peak usage now comes at around 7 p.m. - 8 p.m. he said, with most customers pushing up their most data-intensive activity—video entertainment streaming and gaming—up from the typical 9 p.m. peak.
There was an overall 38% increase in streaming video usage last week over a more typical comparable period, Werner said. Comcast, he noted, has no plans to ask streaming companies like Netflix and Amazon to downgrade their bitrates and decrease their loads on its network.
Videoconferencing usage is up 212%.
And overall WiFi usage is way up—on Xfinity mobile, there’s a 10% decline in cellular LTE usage and a 24% increase in reliance on the WiFi network, with homebound users staying more tied to the latter.
Werner began the teleconference rendering an assertion already made familiar by national leadership—despite several decades of best-selling novels, box-office hits, and regular warnings by organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization, he said “nobody saw this coming.”
In the Q&A portion of the teleconference, Werner clarified that comment: “I don’t think we were too blindsided,” he said. “I can’t speak for others, and I can’t speak for the globe. But our networks are engineered for great fluctuations. We engineer them for peaks. And I think the industry is in pretty good shape.”
Had this sudden rush occurred 25 years ago, in the age of the public switched telephone network, “we would have been in trouble,” Werner said.
San Francisco and Seattle, which have big tech companies full of cutting-edge technology adopters, have provided the best test cases for Comcast, with companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple sending their employees home to work earlier than most in the pandemic cycle. If Comcast’s network can handle data usage increases of around 60% in these regions, Werner said, it should be able to handle peaks that are emerging in other markets, like Chicago.
Comcast has stepped up its number of “network augments,” he added, executing 1,700 last week compared to a typical 400-500. These augments include things like laying more fiber and just generally “turning dials,” trying to maximize the capacity of the network.
He said that deployment of a new network optimization software called PMA has increased capacity by 10%-30% in some cases.
Overall, Werner said there’s been little to no change in the network speeds Comcast customers are experiencing.
He explained that the cable company works 12 to 24 months out from expected capacity needs, which he said increase by 45% a year, on average.
“Peak traffic is what we engineer our network for,” he said.