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Everything You Need to Know About Bandwidth During COVID-19

By: Kayla Matthews on April 6, 2020

The ongoing coronavirus outbreak has brought new attention to otherwise mundane aspects of daily life. As more focus turns towards the internet, the things that enable online functions to become more prevalent than ever. Conversations about concepts like internet bandwidth now flood online discussions and news media.

Bandwidth is an increasingly crucial aspect of modern life, but many people may not know what it is. Once a term reserved for technical discussion, it's seen broader use as it becomes a more practical concern. In the face of COVID-19, an understanding of bandwidth may be something of a necessity.

What Is Bandwidth?

Bandwidth is a measure of how much data can flow through an internet connection in a given time. It describes how much internet usage a network can support at once. Many people confuse bandwidth for internet speed, but while they're related, they aren't the same thing.

It helps to think of an internet connection as a highway. Bandwidth is the number of lanes, while speed is how fast the "cars" are moving through these lanes. The number of lanes can affect the car's speed, but they're not always directly related.

With a small amount of bandwidth, a single connection can still see a considerable amount of speed. However, with more connected devices, the internet won't be as fast due to limited space for the data to flow. A fast internet speed with low bandwidth will only be quick with limited usage.

How The Coronavirus Outbreak Affects Bandwidth Needs

One of the major societal repercussions of COVID-19 is increasing internet traffic. As more people stay home to avoid spreading the virus, more people use the internet when they wouldn't otherwise. However, usage isn't the only factor on the rise. The necessity for widespread usage is also growing.

Many school districts have closed due to the virus outbreak. Consequently, more schools are turning to online education tools to ensure students can get a full education. The rise of these platforms puts increased strain on the bandwidth in students' homes and on the web hosts supporting these tools.

Similarly, as more people work from home, more businesses rely on a constant internet connection. While many people enjoy a relatively stable network at home, they're putting more stress on it than ever before. Many professional-grade services and programs are optimized to run on likewise professional-grade connections.

Even if people are using the same online tools they always have, they're now accessing them on weaker networks. Workers and students need more bandwidth than they may have at home to work.

Consequences of Growing Bandwidth Demands

As internet traffic rises and bandwidth demand grows, some people are concerned about crashes. With so much traffic on the highways of the internet, there's likely to be some stoppages. Lagging or dropping connections are also a severe concern now, with more vital business operations taking place online.

Many consequences happen on the platforms' side of issues, not just with users' connections. Collaborative service providers like Microsoft have experienced lags and outages due to the widespread simultaneous use of their products. These performance issues mostly don't lead to significant problems, but could potentially cause data breaches or leaks under the right circumstances.

Networks hosting multiple users are more likely to encounter connectivity issues. Families or apartments housing several roommates will likely use more of their bandwidth than usual. While their old bandwidth levels were sufficient for their previous usage, they may not be anymore.

The data centers hosting all of these connections will see a surge in usage. The more pressing need for reliable networks will also put more societal strain to keep systems operating normally. 

Solutions to Increased Internet Traffic

While the rising internet traffic is using more bandwidth, it's not enough to crash the internet on a broad scale. Nonetheless, companies can and should take steps to withstand the growing demand for internet bandwidth. First and foremost among these is preparing for more traffic.

The initial wave of internet traffic from coronavirus-related factors might have been unpredictable. However, the same isn't true for continued internet usage. Data centers and web platform providers need to ensure they have additional systems in place to handle further bandwidth demands.

Some internet providers have upgraded users' bandwidth for free for the coming months. Steps like this help ensure people have the infrastructure they need to continue internet work from home. Growing usage from the COVID-19 situation does put more strain on companies, but it's not enough to break them.

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