The pandemic drove rapid growth in streaming during 2020, fueling a notable uptick in both data traffic and new broadband subscriptions.
The largest broadband providers ended the third quarter of 2020 with 104.9 million subs, up 1.5 million from the second quarter of 2020 and up 4.5 million from the third quarter of 2019, according to Leichtman Research Group, the best industry-wide performance in 11 years.
Besides a boost in demand, operators also saw some notable changes in network traffic. Much of this was fueled by streaming video, but CableLabs president and CEO Phil McKinney said there were also notable increases from gaming and in upstream traffic from the home as people made more video calls from home.
“Whereas in the past, there was a lot of video being pushed downstream to the home, in March we started to see a 50% jump in upstream traffic coming from the home,” McKinney said.
The deadly COVID-19 pandemic also dramatically accelerated industrywide trends toward the cloud and internet protocol (IP) infrastructures that are so central to streaming.
CNN, for example, has been building new all-IP infrastructures and embracing cloud technologies in the last few years. Once the pandemic hit, the news network was able to use those investments to quickly set up systems to allow staff to work from home.
“We have an amazing tech operation team that figured out ways for us to utilize tools for cloud editing and to set up control rooms in the cloud,” CNN senior VP of global video Wendy Brundige said. “In the early days of the pandemic, when things were very scary, that not only allowed us to be innovative in content creation, it kept everyone safer.”
Looking forward, CableLabs is working in a number of technologies designed to help the cable industry build even better networks, McKinney noted.
The industry saw the first successful trials for 10G networks in 2020, delivering 10 GB speeds, and McKinney expects more in 2021. CableLabs is also on schedule for delivering DOCSIS 4.0, a suite of technologies that will boost speed, increase network reliability and strengthen security and privacy protections.
“We are already looking at what happens after 10G, when you go from 10 GB to 50 GB and 100 GB” speeds, McKinney said, noting that broadband innovations provided the infrastructure that helped create Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Netflix. “We are working to create a platform on which the next generation of inventors can innovate on top of and create some new experiences.”
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