Ookla: How did the network hold up in 2020?

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2020 was a tough year for humans — and for networks. As daily lives were interrupted and people stayed home rather than travel or gather for work, school or entertainment, there was an accompanying flip-flop in network traffic patterns: Far more reliance on a distributed network of at-home connections than those at businesses, schools or large venues that are built to handle massive traffic. Voice traffic surged, particularly in the early days as people tried to stay in touch with each other, and Virtual Private Network traffic skyrocketed as workers logged in from home.

“There was major concern last year that the internet might fail under the pressure of increased use as COVID-19 drove unparalleled waves of remote work and schooling,” Ookla notes in a blog post analyzing the performance of networks over the course of last year. The company goes on to add, “We are impressed, on the whole, with how well the internet held up to the massive scale of increased use during the past year.”

Across the world, networks continued their path toward faster and faster speeds on both wired and wireless networks in 2020, despite the pandemic. That’s not to say there weren’t any impacts to individual users and operators, or that networks escaped unscathed or unchanged. But country-level data from Ookla speed tests over the course of the year in G20 countries shows that while network speeds improved over the course of the year, most countries saw distinct drops in speed across either mobile or fixed broadband networks (or both) at some point in the year.

The first and largest network slowdowns came in the initial wave of lockdowns in the spring — in February, March or April depending on the country. A smaller dip in speed came for some countries in the late summer, across June/July/August. The U.S. didn’t see much of a high-level impact to mobile networks, but wired networks recorded a median dip in the spring and a plateau in the fall.

Ookla noted that the increased deployment of 5G is pushing network speeds higher across the world, and it performed its analysis based on median network speeds, which it said are less likely to be skewed by particularly fast 5G speed tests.

On a global basis, median download speeds across both wired and wireline networks have improved in many G20 countries between January 2020 and December 2020. Some of those improvements have been quite dramatic. China saw mobile speeds increase more than 75% during the year, while Germany saw a 62.8% increase, and mobile network speeds in the United States were 56.9% compared to January 2020. South Korea saw a 55.5% speed improvement and Saudi Arabia’s median download speeds jumped 48%. On the other end of the spectrum, Turkey saw a 0.7% decrease in median download speed over mobile during the same period, Ookla reported.

Read Ookla’s analysis here.

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