The COVID Effect on Internet Quality of Experience

By: Amir Kotler

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, a flood of news sources has testified to the rise in the use of video conferencing, online gaming, movie streaming and other Internet services in the home. The use of these technologies has affected the quality of experience of home Internet. A recent survey of Veego software agents residing in home routers provides data to analyze the trends in problems that users are facing as they consume more and more Internet services at home.

Recognizing the sudden uptick in home Internet usage, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued home network tips for the coronavirus pandemic. According to them, "Public health guidelines regarding social distancing have suddenly made staying at home the new normal for tens of millions of Americans. With kids home from school, parents teleworking full-time, and everyone needing Internet access, it's important to optimize the performance of your home network…The majority of households with home Internet service use the WiFi (wireless) service on their home router. When multiple wireless devices are using the same WiFi network, it can impact performance and create lag, or slower responses."

The sudden demand for streaming services—movies, live events, and so on—slowed down the Internet for everyone. In the early days of worldwide shutdowns, the Financial Post reported that content providers such as Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime Video were reducing the quality of their videos in certain countries in response to a global surge in traffic. During the same time period, YouTube lowered the lowered the default resolution for videos worldwide—an indication that service quality was definitely impacted.

Survey says: user experience problems abounded

Using data drawn from two European countries and Israel, Veego compared user-experience trends from just before these countries entered into wide-scale lockdowns with usage data garnered through the middle of April. The insights revealed that the uptick in Internet usage was accompanied by a surge in user-experience problems such as unacceptable lags in gaming, freezing of screens during video conferencing, and slow loading of movies. The main reasons behind these problems included network congestion, reduced quality of service that occurs when a network node is called on to carry more data than it can handle, and latency higher than 100 milliseconds—which is especially noticeable by gamers and users of other low-latency applications.

Game companies began working to counter these realities. At the start of the pandemic, Akamai began working with the world's largest distributors of gaming software, such as Microsoft and Sony, to help manage congestion during peak usage periods. This effort was especially focused on gaming software downloads, which create Internet traffic when a gaming update is released to gamers.

This trend in gaming, especially in the isolation we are experiencing in the time of COVID-19, is expected to continue pushing the boundaries of Internet performance and quality, especially as new games and gaming updates go live to millions of users globally. Let’s look at how this plays out in more detail with two examples. In the first, “Call of Duty: Warzone,” an 80-gigabyte download that is the size equivalent of dozens of movies on Netflix, was likely downloaded at the maximum bandwidth home connections provided upon its release, saturating Internet infrastructure. In the second, computer game provider Steam published a record 20 million concurrent players with some analytics showing a 400 percent increase in gaming traffic during the initial weeks of shutdowns in the spring.

Streaming video can also have an impact on Internet usage in the home. Consider that several family members may access a growing volume of 4K video content through streaming media applications such as YouTube, Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu across a broad range of video devices, including smart TVs, tablets, smartphones, etc—all simultaneously. In recognition of the complications posed by these traffic demands, YouTube elected to make lower-quality video its streaming standard early in the pandemic. At the time, users would have to manually select a higher-definition video if preferred.

Insights from the survey

The actual impact of streaming video on Internet infrastructure was captured in the survey, conducted in April 2020. To collect the data for this survey, an intelligent agent located in select home routers was tapped to gain insights. Internet-connected services such as video streaming, online gaming, video conferencing, web browsing, and other software and services used by connected devices in the home were reviewed and the data analyzed.


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