2020-2021: Networks Doing Fine in the Time of Corona

Amazingly, there have been close to zero reports of additional traffic causing important problems for people at home. The networks are successfully handling 20-50% traffic increases while still staying fast enough for almost all practical purposes. Traffic has now plateaued and speeds improving weekly.

Median landline download speeds in 90% of U.S. cities were within 20% of norm. The majority of cities tested over 40 Mbps on downloads. Virtually all connections were fast enough for three 4 Mbps HD streams except on DSL links that already had problems and should have been upgraded years ago.

Wireless traffic was actually down in some places and rarely increased by more than 20%. Many people at home used Wi-Fi instead of cellular, leaving wireless data networks in good shape. 4G & 5G wireless technology has improved enormously in the last few years. Verizon’s cost to carry a bit has dropped ~40% annually. Speeds are now often 50-150 Mbps down.

5G buildouts have actually accelerated in the U.S. and China, the leading countries. The Politburo has made 5G a central part of the massive “New Infrastructure” stimulus. They plan 600,000 cell site upgrades in 2020 and 150 million subscribers at well over 100 Mbps. That’s about 70% of 5G worldwide.

T-Mobile in the U.S. is rapidly building out the golden 2.5 GHz spectrum acquired with Sprint. It now has a better network than Verizon in much of the country. Verizon responded by raising capex by a billion dollars, t $18,5 billion. Most upgrades simply require replacing equipment on existing towers, which allows workers to distance.

Outside of China, Korea, and maybe the U.S., 2020 5G is mostly hot air and modest deployment. The latest word from Europe is that things are slowing down even more. On the other hand, US$400-500 decent 5G are now reaching the West and the iPhone 5G is set for the fall. That may stimulate demand.

Takeaway: Capacity is there for whatever people want to watch. Cost per bit is falling rapidly, which means more in India and Africa can watch video. Wireless speeds are improving rapidly worldwide.

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