Cable operators generally have adjusted well to the bandwidth spikes caused by COVID-19 related stay-at-home strategies. They have been able to add capacity efficiently in most cases when needed. With the current situation appearing to be under control, it would be natural for network planners to start thinking about what happens once the pandemic eases – and whether their networking strategies need to be adjusted to accommodate some sort of “new normal” and whatever peaks from that new level may arise. And they must also consider whether to plan for events such the world is currently experiencing, whether that’s a second wave of COVID-19 cases in the short term or some unknown threat farther down the road.
Observers say that a “normal” day post-pandemic will look different than one at this time last year. There’s agreement that once bandwidth demand settles down, that level will be greater than networks experienced before COVID-19 arrived. “I think the new normal will not be like the current normal,” stated Tom Cloonan, CTO, Broadband Networks at CommScope. “It’s likely that there will be a lot more stay-at-home workers and stay-at-home students. So the network probably experienced a step function [bandwidth increase] in the last seven weeks that will not snap back down when there's a cure for coronavirus. It'll drop down a little, but it won't drop down to where it was.”
Cloonan said that operators with whom he’s spoken agree with this notion, although there isn’t consensus on where bandwidth levels will settle. “The step down is an interesting random variable that everybody has their own view on,” he explained. “In my spreadsheets right now I'm showing if it jumped up by x, I'm dropping it down by x/2. I have no proof that's right or wrong.
“I think that's aggressive. I think it will be more people go back to work than 50% of those that are at home,” Cloonan admitted. “I know if we build systems that can support that bandwidth going forward in the future, we're safe and when the whole [return] event does occur, we can correct that ‘knob’ that I put into the spreadsheets. I think all the operators are doing the same thing.”
Jeff Heynan, senior research director, Broadband Access and Home Networking at Dell’Oro Group, is seeing similar activity. “Some operators are definitely factoring in a range of percentage of workers who do not return to their office this year and instead continue to work from home or work from micro-offices with smaller groups. They are using these models to help plan for new equipment deployments, node splits, and where they might need to upgrade CPE in bulk to support sustained higher bandwidth requirements,” he explained. “For example, I know of at least one or two cable operators that are going to move up the node splits they had planned across 2020 and 2021 into this year.”
Cloonan also foresees more operators performing node splits and upstream mid-splits and high-splits once things calm down. “Node splits, mid-splits, and high-splits are more aimed at the realization that we barely snuck by this time, let's be honest,” he said. “We know that bandwidth continues to grow, and we can't just sit on the network as it is. We're not going to get lucky if this were to happen two years from now. We wouldn't sneak by. Then we would bang our head hard.”