Demand created by the COVID-19 pandemic is “pushing our members to upgrade both last-mile and backhaul capacity” according to a COVID-19 WISP traffic report from the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA).

The survey confirmed some trends that WISPA and other broadband providers and analysts have found. For instance, HD movies are a significant driver both in the pre-COVID and current landscape. It also came as no surprise that WISPA members reported that virtual meetings and webinars became the most used applications during the pandemic.

The crisis has driven a surge in both download and upload use. Despite the increase in upload demand, only “a small minority” cited faster uploads as the driver of service upgrades. The FCC-benchmark for broadband – 25 Mbps downloads/3 Mbps uploads — was the most popular service even where symmetrical gigabit services were available.

WISPA’s members serve more than 6 million Americans. Here are details of its finding of the COVID-19 WISP traffic report, which was characterized as “non-scientific” by the organization:

  • Top 5 uses during COVID: Virtual meetings/Webinars; distance learning; HD movie streaming; telemedicine; Web browsing. This compares to the top five before the pandemic: HD movie streaming; email; Web browsing; gaming; music streaming.
  • Eighty-two percent of WISPs upgraded their delivery network since COVID began and 58% have purchased additional capacity from suppliers.
  • The top five speed packages during the pandemic: 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload; 10 Mbps/1 Mbps; 50 Mbps/5 Mbps; 100 Mbps/20 Mbps; 100 Mbps/100 Mbps.  Overall, traffic was asymmetrical, with 7:1 ratio of downstream to upstream traffic.
  • Overall, downstream traffic was up 43% and upstream traffic was up 70%.
  • Twelve percent of customers who upgraded did so due to the need for faster uploads.

The ramifications of COVID-19 on the telecommunications sector have been closely watched. In early April, WISPA released survey results that found a 36% increase in average traffic due to the pandemic. The survey found that 83% of WISPs added subscribers – a figure that is 33% above normal.

On the other side of the ledger is the cost of pitching in to help. WISPA reported in June that compliance with the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge has cost the average rural WISP $32,700. This FCC initiative launched in mid-March to maintain connectivity during the pandemic.

OpenVault also documented the increased and changing traffic dynamics due to COVID-19. The OpenVault Broadband Insights (OVBI) report released earlier this month found that upstream traffic rose 5.3% between the ends of the first and second quarters of the year. It also found a desire for faster broadband speed tiers.

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