Network and Engineering
COVID-19 Network Report: How Investing for the Future Prepared Us for the Unexpected
(This is the second in a series of stories exploring how our network thrived during the COVID-19 surge. We’re sharing the key factors that allowed us to deliver fast, reliable service to millions of Americans during history’s largest sustained surge in residential Internet traffic, and how we’re making sure we’re ready for what comes next. You can read more here.)
Nobody could have predicted the dramatic ways in which COVID-19 would change our lives – both physically and digitally – overnight. But what we know from decades of building and evolving a network upon which tens of millions of Americans depend, is that it’s never enough to engineer for what we know – we have to always be ready for an uncertain future.
In March, when the world experienced the largest-ever sustained spike in residential Internet traffic, many feared that networks would buckle under the strain.
The performance of our network, however, quickly quelled those concerns. Throughout the sustained COVID-19 surge, our network continued to deliver, on average, above-advertised speeds across the country, even in the areas we serve that were most dramatically affected by COVID-19. We know this because we conduct almost 700,000 diagnostic speed tests per day.
We have doubled our network capacity every 2.5 years to stay well ahead of demand that has been growing at a steady rate.
To give a sense of what our investment means in practical terms, since 2017 we’ve built 33,331 route miles of new fiber into our network. That’s more than enough to wrap around the planet. Each route mile may consist of up to hundreds of individual fiber strands delivering information and services to our customers. In March and April we added more than:
A key advantage we have is that our network’s architecture – which consists of an advanced, highly redundant fiber optic core and a hybrid of fiber and coaxial cable (HFC) in the neighborhoods we serve – provides tremendous flexibility, scalability, and reliability. In addition to the fiber we’ve built into our core network, we’ve devoted a significant portion of the more than $12 billion we’ve invested since 2017 to build more fiber into our network, pushing it closer to our customers’ homes and delivering significantly more capacity and speed. This is a key reason we’ve been able to make gigabit internet available to 59 million homes passed in 39 states and the District of Columbia, across our footprint.
And while much of the investment and development that helped us weather the COVID-19 surge was completed long before the pandemic hit, the inherent flexibility of our network architecture also meant that we were able to move quickly to add even more capacity in March and April when our customers needed it most, and even as we were adding more customers.
In March and April of 2020, as the COVID-19 surge rose, our network teams more than tripled the number of network enhancements they made during the same period a year before, adding 1,700 new 100-gigabit links to our network to help ensure that our customers’ service stayed fast and stable throughout our footprint.
The nature of networks is that most people don’t pay any attention to them until something goes wrong. But as we look back at the COVID-19 surge and the critical role our network played in keeping tens of millions of Americans connected to work, school, news, and entertainment, we’re taking note how our investment approach worked, and committing anew to the future-focused philosophy that allowed us to meet this challenge.
Jan Hofmeyr is Executive Vice President and Chief Network Officer.