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Why the Coronavirus Lockdown is Making the Internet Stronger Than Ever

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Many homes have satellite connections for TV and Internet.

The covid-19 crisis is driving the biggest Internet expansion in years.

Credit: Marco Zoppi

Just like that, our internet connection has become an umbilical to the outside world. We now depend on it to do our jobs, to go to school, and to see other people. It is our primary source of entertainment. And we're using it a lot.

Between January and late March, internet traffic increased by around a quarter in many major cities, according to Cloudflare, a US company that provides network infrastructure to businesses around the world. Demand has skyrocketed for certain online services in particular. Video calls have replaced face-to-face interaction with colleagues, family, and friends alike. More people started using the video-conferencing software Zoom in the first two months of 2020 than in all of 2019. Stay-at-home entertainment is also booming. Record numbers of people are using Steam, a popular online PC game store. At one point this weekend more than 24 million players were logged on at the same time, a 25% jump since February. And online grocery stores are unable to handle the surge in business, with customers waiting for hours in virtual lines tens of thousands of people long. 

So how is the internet coping with the most sudden burst of usage in its history? There are understandable signs of strain: Wi-Fi that slows to a crawl, websites that won't load, video calls that cut out. But despite the odd hiccup, the internet is doing just fine. In fact, the covid-19 crisis is driving the biggest expansion in years.

"Anecdotally, the internet is struggling to keep up with the shift," says Matthew Roughan at the University of Adelaide in Australia, who leads a mapping project called the Internet Topology Zoo. "You tend to hear the bad-news stories at the moment." Paul Barford at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who runs another internet-mapping project, agrees. The more we use the internet, the more we notice its glitches. Still, you might see brief, local disruption but not broader effects, he says: "That's the whole point of a distributed network."


From MIT Technology Review
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