The internet was designed from its inception to withstand the stress that comes with periodic spikes in usage. But the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns have pushed internet use to new levels. There was initial concern that the internet would buckle under such pressure, but those concerns have largely passed without any serious disruption. That's mostly because the internet was designed to weather crises that had the potential to severely disrupt interconnectivity, and because telecommunications giants have worked tirelessly since the outbreak of the pandemic to ensure that the internet's billions of little nodes remain connected.
Built for crises
Those who first went to work designing the structures of the internet understood that, even in ordinary times, there would be periods of disruptive, high-volume traffic. Prior to the pandemic, those peak times typically occurred during weeknights, when millions of people settled into their beds and couches to tune out with streaming services like Netflix. The internet was always able to adapt, mostly without difficulty. But early developers also planned for disruption on a global scale. The internet's predecessor, ARPANET, was designed to survive a nuclear attack during the Cold War, signifying a deep concern for disaster management that formed a core part of the modern internet's design.
More than that, although the internet is often perceived as a single entity, it is actually a collection of tens of thousands of distinct networks. If one user wants to get from Point A to Point B in cyberspace, there are often several avenues they can take. That means if one network is blocked or disrupted, there is usually another one available to the user. This highly decentralized structure also means that a problem in one network doesn't spread to others, ensuring general stability of the internet despite localized disruptions. These are the implicit design features that ensure the internet is well-equipped for any crisis scenario.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges that seriously tested the internet's viability in a moment of crisis. First, national lockdowns forced people to use the internet at levels that far exceeded standard high-stress capacity, creating a major bandwidth problem for internet service providers. Global network outages surged by 63% in March 2020, according to ThousandEyes Internet Performance Report. Work-from-home orders also meant that most people were relying almost exclusively on smaller and less durable residential networks as opposed to sophisticated company networks that are designed to handle such volume.
Due to its in-built attributes, the internet was able to absorb much of the pandemic's impact, but many of the issues that arose directly as a consequence of the lockdowns have been managed manually by ISPs themselves. Telecommunications companies are known to over-prepare for disaster; they typically employ more engineers and technicians than are usually needed for moments like this. When the pandemic took hold and networks came under the stress of overuse, telecom companies sent their emergency teams to the cities and regions most affected, to build new routers and fiber connections to better handle surging demand.
Hope for the future
The experience of the pandemic has been enormously disruptive to national economies and global industries. But the internet has survived almost completely intact, demonstrating its remarkable resilience, strength and stability in the face of global crisis. Once feared that it would be overwhelmed by the pandemic, the internet's performance should give hope and security to businesses that plan to move their operations either partially or totally online, and they can continue to rely on the internet to perform their most important communications and consulting tasks.
KETCHConsulting specializes in disaster management and is prepared to provide businesses with the expertise they need to navigate the post-pandemic internet. Contact us today begin taking your business into the future.