Anyone can publish on Medium per our Policies, but we don’t fact-check every story. For more info about the coronavirus, see cdc.gov.

Slow Internet? How Covid-19 is Stressing Internet Infrastructure in Your Country

Alternative data reveals the countries where ICT Infrastructure is buckling under the pressure of rolling lockdowns

KASPR Datahaus
Mar 15 · 6 min read

On March 11th, the WHO officially declared the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) as a global pandemic. Since then, most of us have received advice from our governments, employers, educational institutions, or via social media that basically suggests one thing: “Stay at home and avoid contact with other people.

In its most extreme form, this has led to complete or partial lockdowns of countries, such as Italy and China, while other nations have implemented policies that led to shut-downs of wider parts of the economy or travel bans.

The result is that an unprecedented number of people are now forced to spend a high amount of their time at home leading to drastic changes in the way we work, consume, and communicate.

From Google to the US Federal government, home is the new work.

More people at home, means more people online (with big bandwidth appetites)

The silver lining of this situation is that the wide-spread diffusion of the Internet has made our work, studies, social interactions and consumption behaviour less dependent on physical locations and direct human interactions.

In a crisis situation like this one, the Internet provides our society with a previously unknown flexibility on how to react to a pandemic and potentially decrease its spread by being less reliant on directly interacting with one another.

However, to make this shift from a more location- and face-to-face based physical economy, to a more decentralized, home based, and digital economy work, we need one thing: a functioning Internet.

Unsurprisingly then, the unprecedented transformation of our behaviour has put a large strain on national Internet infrastructure, but also on the global Internet backbone.

The way our society interacts with the Internet has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. Our appetite for bandwidth is on steroids.

Work from home or tele-work is no longer limited by the ability to send emails, but requires video conferencing capacities, a reliable VPN connection and the ability to share large data-sets within a short period of time. Most of today’s leisure activities, streaming services, video chats, online gaming, are also very bandwidth intensive.

All this, puts a huge strain on the existing infrastructure, and the increasing requirements for social distancing and self-quarantine will just further increase the congestion on the world’s information highways.

Which all leads to one big question being asked by digital observers: will a country’s Internet infrastructure keep up with the sudden surge in bandwidth demand?

Because ultimately, the Internet is probably the most important, but also most vulnerable, form of critical infrastructure we have during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Consistent, Objective, Global Measurement with Alternative Data

At KASPR Datahaus, our distributed technology scans, aggregates, analyses and visualizes real-time information on Internet activity and quality by measuring hundreds of millions of connected fixed Internet devices at all over the world.

Our technology has already been applied to create insights for decision makers during various critical events such as natural disasters and political crises.

Every one of these events has either a direct or indirect impact on internet activity and quality. This creates signals that are detected by our geo-located global technology in near real-time, days or weeks before the market knows about them.

During the Covid-19 outbreak, we’ve already applied our technology to reveal the vast economic impact that the government’s lockdowns and bans have had on key export regions, through the lens of Internet connectivity patterns.

Internet Pressure in Countries with Major Covid-19 Outbreaks

Here, we show how measurements on the differences in the speed of internet packets traveling between the US and destinations regions reveal the pressure of the new tele-work reality.

We took billions of speed measurements globally during the Thursday 13 Feb 2020 to Friday 14 Feb 2020 as a baseline, and then again during the Thursday 12 Mar 2020 to Friday 13 Mar 2020 period, a time when many countries had major lock-downs in place.

Specifically we focus on regions within countries having at least 100 confirmed Covid-19 as of Friday March 13, since these are the most likely to have undertaken significant social distancing activities.

By comparing the percentage change between the baseline and the recent or ‘lockdown’ speed measurement, we can get a measure of the “Internet pressure” being applied by the lock-down period as everyone stays at home, online.

In Figure 1 we show our results:

Figure 1: Countries coping or failing to handle the Internet Pressure of Covid-19, as of 13 March 2020.

As can be seen, as the Covid-19 lockdowns take hold under heavy case loads, the internet certainly shows signs of significant pressure, and in some regions, it seems that pressure is leading to crippling online experiences.

The pattern for Japan, Spain, South Korea, Italy, and China shows a strong correlation with Covid-19 cases, lock-downs, and Internet pressure.

Malaysia stands as something of an outlier, in that its internet appears to be struggling, though its reported case-load is still small. There could be a range of reasons for this outcome, but no doubt heightened anxiety among the population, given the proximity to major disease centres, leading to enlarged demand for online content could easily stress a fragile ICT infrastructure.

Sweden seems also an outlier of a different kind. Whilst it has not had the same case-load of some European counter-parts further south, the Scandanavians have certainly acted strongly to limit movement. And, it would seem from our measurements, Swedish Internet capacity is already showing signs of difficulty with median slow-downs across its regions of over 10%.

Diving Deeper: Iran, China & Italy

Notably, Iran, known to be suffering greatly from the Covid — 19 outbreak, finds its internet likewise buckling under the pressure, with a median Covid-19 slow-down of 25%, but many regions over 30% and one (Qom) close to 70%, and clearly not holding up:

Figure 2: A deep-dive into Iran’s struggling Internet infrastructure during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Likewise, as we have already reported for several provinces, China appears to be experiencing widespread internet bottlenecks:

Figure 3: The impact of Covid-19 on China’s ICT Infrastructure seems most pronounced in and around Hubei Province, the epicentre of the virus, plus the major coastal cities of Shanghai and Beijing.

The most impacted regions, revealed in our measurements, reads as a who’s who of the major export regions near Hubei, the epicentre of the virus.

Finally, we look into Italy, who, by all accounts, has experienced a 70% increase in internet traffic with many families apparently resorting to bandwidth heavy online games to pass the time.

Figure 4: Italy struggles, but largely holds up, under the load of nation-wide lockdowns, with many families reportedly resorting to online gaming to pass the time.

So far, with the exception of Sicily, impacts on the Internet have been milder than in other European counterparts, but it would seem that Italy is already sailing close to the wind.

Taken together, it is clear that as remarkable and transformational as the Internet is, the Covid-19 pandemic is putting unprecedented pressure on national networks as dramatic changes in human behaviour take place in real time.

We’ll keep reporting as we see patterns unfold, giving governments, citizens, and analysts insight into this global emergency.

Where will KASPR Datahaus products take you?

KASPR Datahaus Global daily products offer decision makers in the financial and other sectors a unique informational advantage.

Figure 2: Observations of the active Internet space from KASPR Datahaus. Over 300 million fixed edge connections. Billions of observations a day.

Shocks to internet availability and stability drive trends across industries and ultimately affect the performance of company’s stocks.

In one of our back-testing exercises, using daily-returns data on the S&P 500 VIX index, KASPR Datahaus Global products reveal subtle shifts in internet activity and stability hinting at market-sensitive movements. Predictive model accuracy improves substantially when KASPR Datahaus internet stability products are added to the feature set. Get in touch to read the white-paper.

KASPR Datahaus Global products give you access to daily, fundamental insights across almost 2000 sub-national regions in 136 countries.

Now you can be the first to know when any region goes down, or changes pattern. Probably before the asset owner themselves.

Get more information about our technology and products from our website or contact us directly at info@kasprdata.com.

KASPR Datahaus

Written by

KASPR Datahaus is a Melbourne based alternative data company. We have developed a method to collect Internet activity and quality data in real time.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade