When the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading across the globe, many countries enforced lockdowns and social distancing measures to curb the spread of the virus. As the number of cases decreased and government officials decided to lift the lockdown, many people assumed the worst had passed, and normal way of life could be resumed with limited precautionary measures in place. Unfortunately, little did they know the likelihood of a second wave was very much present given the highly contagious nature of the novel Corona Virus, and the lack of its antidote.
As the winter season approached, a spike in coronavirus cases was witnessed in different parts of Europe and the United States. Health officials had continued to warn of this second wave since late summer. With the number of COVID-19 and influenza affected people coming to overwhelm the capacity of hospitals and other healthcare facilities yet again, many European nations were subjected to a lockdown. And, so were a number of states in America.
The extent of the new spate of lockdowns varies from one region to another, depending upon the prevalent circumstance. But, largely speaking restrictions on work regimes, social gatherings, businesses, outdoor entertainment, and educational institutions, have again forced large swaths of population to rely on the internet for almost everything—work, school, shopping, banking, socializing, entertaining—you name it.
With renewed restrictions strictly imposed in some states, now beginning to ease down in others and lifted in some, people are still relying more on the internet to run their everyday life. The Holiday season and the approach of Christmas has not helped the situation. If only it has resulted in more load on the internet, with a vast number of people now shopping online, tuning into their favorite streaming platforms like Netflix and YouTube to entertain themselves, and of course connecting with family and friends via social media. This makes the current situation not much unlike what we witnessed back in the spring when The Newstack reported 25%-30% higher internet consumption. Generally speaking the internet infrastructure has held up well through these times, despite a massive increase in both downstream and upstream traffic.
Let’s take a look at key areas that have contributed to the over-consumption of internet in recent times.
Chances are, you have been working from within the four walls of your home since the COVID-19 pandemic took the globe in its grip. And, like million others you must be counting on video conferencing software such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Google Meet etc. With more and more employees connecting via online video tools, uploading and downloading large work-related files, creating data backups on the Cloud, and completing other organizational tasks using the internet, it is no surprise speed and bandwidth requirements have surged, and so has the demand on the internet infrastructures.
Almost every educational institute has been driven to shift from in-person to virtual classes since the pandemic hit earlier this year. From pre-school to university education, students have had to depend on online resources to continue their education as best as possible. The reason why there has been a significant surge in usage of language apps, virtual tutoring, online learning software etc.
Even when the lockdown eased out following the first wave of the pandemic, parents preferred to make their kids attend Zoom classes rather than sending them to school. Teachers were inclined to hand out school assignments via Google Classroom. While college going students too attended classes and conducted research off-campus.
High growth levels had already been observed in education technology, as investment in the sector surpassed $18 billion in 2019. With research suggesting online education has contributed to increased retention of information in recent times, it is likely the shift to e-learning is here to stay. That is one big reason the global Ed-Tech market is projected to hit the $350 billion mark in 2025.
As people could no longer go to stadiums to watch professional sporting events, and movie theaters had to close their doors, the only avenue for televisual entertainment left for the masses around the globe were in-home options.
People turned to their cable TV service or streamed online in millions. So, Netflix bagged 16 million new subscriptions courtesy of the novel Corona Virus. While countless others kept themselves busy with online games resulting in a huge jump in revenue for the video game industry giants. Back in April 2020, the Game Pass service from Microsoft reached the 10 million subscription mark. Nintendo said the sales of its Switch console increased by 24% year-over-year. Steam reported an all-time high concurrent user count of over 20 million in March 2020. Overall, video game sales in March alone reached approx. $1.6 billion which was a 35% increase year-over-year.
Those who are carefully sticking to social distancing rules are relying on video calls to interact with family and friends, and have perhaps added the most to the traffic on social networking sites. According to statistics revealed by the Harris Poll, between March and May 2020 up to 51% adults in the U.S. were using social media more than before the outbreak of COVID-19.
People have looked for better ways to stay connected—in order to fill in the gap caused by the COVID-19 restrictions in human interaction. Exchanging messages and sharing media were not the only forms of social networking employed—rather people engaged in video chats so they could see their loved ones. And, this obviously added to the surge in bandwidth consumption. Strong engagement patterns have been observed on social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Apple iMessage. While Instagram and Snapchat are predicted to experience a more sustained boost as a result.
It was not only that social media networks turned into a source of sustaining personal connections, rather these platforms also contributed to real-time and first-hand updates on the situation. And, even businesses resorted to platforms like Zoom to interact with consumers, given the marked rise in online shopping.
Needless to say everything from how people work, learn, socialize and entertain has seen a massive change—in ways that are obvious and ways that are imperceptible. The COVID-19 affair has introduced the global population to a shift in preferences and inclinations.
With people staying more at home, and computers close at hand, a vast majority has preferred not to squint at their oh-so-little smartphone screens. The reason why internet users have, largely speaking, shifted to desktops and laptops instead of using app versions of entertainment and social networking sites. Facebook, Netflix and YouTube have all reported the numbers on their mobile apps remained unchanged or fell while their websites reflected significant rise in traffic.
Well, it has not only been the urban and suburban dwellers who have come to depend more and more on the internet to run their everyday lives. Even in non-urban regions, where availability of high-speed internet is not too limited, as is the case with rural America in general, patterns of internet consumption have seen a shift. With physical interaction getting restricted, people have relied on making their connections via the internet. Some rural states, such as Maine, also had another factor contributing to the surge—an influx of residents from urban localities—people who moved to vacation homes and the likes.
Another shift observed as a result of the novel Corona Virus outbreak is people have preferred to tune into local sources of news, such as local papers and local TV, to keep themselves updated. This move away from reliance on national mainstream media reflects an urge to see a more precise picture and know what is happening close to home. Local newspapers and TV stations are perceived to bring real-time information about what affects every day life in any given region.
Another interesting trend observed as a result of the pandemic is the type of sites users are accessing. With times and circumstances becoming more and more unpredictable, there has been a decline in the number of searches related to sports, weddings, travel etc. On the other hand there has been an increase in traffic for content related to parenting, fitness, entertainment, jobs, financial planning etc.
The restrictions that resulted from the outbreak of the novel Corona Virus may be time-bound, but new trends as far as the usage of internet across the globe, may sustain even after the New Normal emerges. For instance, organizations may consider to cut over-head costs by introducing more comprehensive work-for-home policies and more streamlined processes to direct the effort. Or a more sustained effort may be invested to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural communities so that mass population everywhere is able to access the internet with greater ease. Only time will tell exactly what shape and form current trends take as we move forward in time.
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