Why the Coronavirus Lockdown is Upgrading the Internet

Far from breaking it, the surge in usage the internet is seeing right now is driving a major upgrade.

Between January and late March, internet traffic increased by around a quarter in many major cities, according to Cloudflare, a US company that provides network infrastructure to businesses around the world. Demand has skyrocketed for certain online services in particular. Video calls have replaced face-to-face interaction with colleagues, family, and friends alike. More people started using the video-conferencing software Zoom in the first two months of 2020 than in all of 2019. Stay-at-home entertainment is also booming. Record numbers of people are using Steam, a popular online PC game store. At one point this weekend more than 24 million players were logged on at the same time, a 25% jump since February. And online grocery stores are unable to handle the surge in business, with customers waiting for hours in virtual lines tens of thousands of people long.

So how is the internet coping with the most sudden burst of usage in its history? There are understandable signs of strain: Wi-Fi that slows to a crawl, websites that won’t load, video calls that cut out. But despite the odd hiccup, the internet is doing just fine. In fact, the covid-19 crisis is driving the biggest expansion in years.

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