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Internet network holds up despite demand during containment

Is the Internet threatened with saturation by confined teleworkers and idle students glued to online videos? To believe the announcements of some of the major online video distributors, one would be tempted to believe. In the space of a few days, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon Prime Video, Twitch, Apple TV and Netflix have announced measures to reduce the amount of data consumed by their users in the pipes of the European Net and avoid saturation. The Disney + video service has even postponed its release in France to April 7 rather than March 24, “At the request of the government”.

The latter, in fact, put the big providers of content on the Internet under pressure, in unison with European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton. On his Twitter account, on March 18, the senior official evoked a telephone discussion with the CEO of Netflix and sent him to “Switch to standard definition when HD is not needed”. The next day, in a statement, the Secretary of State for Digital, Cédric O, called “Content providers consuming a lot of bandwidth to take appropriate measures to limit the consumption of their services”.

A robust Internet

However, if there is one observation shared unanimously by all the “supporters” of the network, it is that the French and European Internet is not threatened with congestion in the short term.

Read also Coronavirus: operators and hosts prepare for increased Internet traffic

The first week of confinement was a test and it was successful: the network was able to absorb the significant increase in traffic among individuals. At Orange, we explain that that related to teleworking (emails, VPN, sending files) has been multiplied by seven, that videoconferencing has been multiplied by two and that WhatsApp traffic has increased fivefold. At SFR, we ensure to have seen a doubling of traffic to Netflix, last week.

Figures corroborated by what is observed on certain Internet nodes, where the various network players connect. At the Amsterdam node, one of the largest in the world, there is an increase of 20% compared to traffic in February. But we are far, very far from the maximum allowed. Within this node of the network, the total capacity, regularly reinforced, is 34.6 terabits per second: the maximum peak observed in recent days took place on Sunday March 22, at 7.8 Tbits / s.

“These are things that our network can absorb, we have no worries for our customers”, we confirm at Orange. “I have all the operators in France in my data center, and not a single one today has declared itself in serious saturation or having been overwhelmed by traffic. There is a noticeable increase, significant sometimes, but no one reports saturation ”, said Sami Slim, deputy director of Telehouse, a Parisian company where hundreds of Internet companies interconnect.

French networks are able to take a load ” thrice “ more important than currently, believes, for his part, Clément Cavadore, network expert and also vice-president of the main French Internet node.

Anticipate the unknown

How then to explain the concern of the access providers which motivated their activism so that the public authorities demand a reduced flow from the content providers?

First, in addition to the increase in the load to be supported, the access providers note an evolution of the traffic: the peak of connection in the evening hardly changes, but the activity is more sustained throughout the day, according to several operators interviewed. “Usually, we have predictable traffic growth curves, we are entering the unknown. We wanted to put the odds on our side. We had figures from Italy, where there is a strong and daily growth. We wanted to protect ourselves from that. The best solution is that content providers limit traffic “, explains Jean-Paul Arzel, network director at Bouygues Telecom.

Read also Coronavirus: Facebook wants to prevent the “collapse” of its servers in the face of peak usage

For all operators, we point to the need to anticipate this unknown and to hold out as long as the crisis requires, with very limited resources in terms of maintenance. “There has been a concern expressed by operators about their ability to maintain their network in the medium term, explains Sébastien Soriano, president of the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Communications and Posts (Arcep), the network policeman. Feedback from other countries shows that there may be spikes in new uses. These are the exceptional peaks that everyone dreads. “

For all operators, we therefore welcome the decision of the major content providers to limit their throughput, thereby saving “Flexibility in daily management”. The government will also put fat in the wheels, bringing together content operators and ISPs to adapt to the situation and, if necessary, “Get messages across”says Soriano.

What about net neutrality?

Will this lead to breaches of net neutrality, guaranteed by law and which requires ISPs to treat all data flows fairly? This is what some fear. “There is a temptation to seize this moment of possible overheating of networks to make an exception to the principle of net neutrality, and why not after the crisis make it persist, which is a danger for the digital world”, tackle Sami Slim.

“The current situation should not be used as a pretext for short cuts that we would later regret. Nobody wants to question the neutrality of the Net, I have not heard that from the operator side “, tempers Sébastien Soriano, who prefers to highlight the particularity of the crisis that France is going through.

Read also Why the end of net neutrality is scary

“When operators tell us they have capacity constraints, we normally tell them to increase it. However, in the short term, operators cannot double their capacity overnight! “, further specifies Mr. Soriano, who recalls that the European framework on the neutrality of the Net precisely makes it possible to limit certain flows to counter congestion. Especially since, for him, “Today, the great [fournisseurs de contenus] have a particular moral responsibility given the volume of traffic “.

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