WISPs Upgrade Last-Mile, Backhaul Capacity for COVID


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In early August, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) surveyed its WISP providers on the effect the pandemic has had on network use, changes in download and upload traffic, and network responses, among other matters. From what WISPA is calling a “non-scientific survey” released Tuesday, it was able to gain insight into how WISPs – who serve approximately six million Americans in rural and urban communities – deliver broadband to their customers during the pandemic.        

As a topline finding, while HD movie streaming continues to be a significant bandwidth driver both pre- and post-COVID, not surprisingly shut-in practices boosted virtual meetings/webinars and distance learning to the most used applications during the pandemic. As a consequence, download traffic and upload traffic surged, pushing members to upgrade both last-mile and backhaul capacity, according to the results.  

This noted, broadband use remains highly asymmetrical during COVID, with only a small minority of customers citing faster upload speeds as a reason for upgrading their service packages where requested, said the association. Finally, though customer bandwidth needs have seemingly increased during the pandemic, the most popular service package for consumers is FCC-benchmarked broadband, even where symmetric gigabit services are available.

More granular details of the WISPA survey are: 

Top 5 uses pre-COVID

  1. HD movies streaming
  2. Email
  3. Web browsing
  4. Gaming
  5. Music streaming

Top 5 uses during COVID

  1. Virtual meetings/Webinars
  2. Distance learning
  3. HD movie streaming
  4. Telemedicine
  5. Web browsing

WISPs upgrading delivery network since COVID

  • 82 percent 

WISPs purchasing additional capacity from bandwidth suppliers since COVID

  • 58 percent 

Top 5 “speed” packages chosen during COVID

  1. 25/3
  2. 10/1
  3. 50/5
  4. 100/20
  5. 100/100

Average of asymmetric traffic characteristics during COVID

  • 7 – 1 (down to up)

Average change of download traffic at peak from pre to present COVID

  • +43 percent

Average change of upload traffic at peak from pre to present COVID

  • +70 percent

Percentage of customers who upgraded citing need for greater upload speed due to COVID

  • 12 percent

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