Strategy Manager for Fixed Connectivity, Vodafone Business
One of the many things I’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, is that the Internet will never be the same again. The graph below shows this in the clearest way I’ve seen so far:
Fixed data upload averages
The grey line represents pre-pandemic upload averages, the red line represents post-pandemic upload averages.
These are pre- and post-pandemic views of the upload profile of the global Vodafone fixed network. As you can see on the grey line, before the pandemic usage increased gradually over the course of a normal day. It would reach a peak at about 9pm when people were streaming videos and playing games on-line. The red line paints a very different picture though.
With many people working from home, the utilisation of the network is at the higher levels for many more hours, mirroring a typical working day. This has contributed to an increase of over 30 Exabytes 1 of traffic on our network in the last financial year.
So, what’s driving the increase? The answer is that a lot of the traffic comes from Unified Communications-as-a-Service (or UCaaS for short). Put simply, UCaaS is the name given to communication and collaboration applications that run in the cloud.
Three of the leading examples are Microsoft Teams, RingCentral and Zoom, all of which provide voice and video calling as well as solutions for online meetings.
Remote workers have come to depend on these Internet-hosted services to stay in touch with their friends and family, as well as their colleagues. This usage represents a generational shift for many people who were uncomfortable having a webcam on before.
But what happens when people go back to the office?
If we fast forward to a time when the pandemic is part of life’s background noise, many users will remain working from home for some or all of the time.
Others will relish the chance to return to the office for a more collaborative and communal working day. Whichever path you take, there will still be a place in your life for UCaaS. The hybrid working world will ensure that video conferences are not going away any time soon.
You will also see a much higher degree of flexibility in some companies when it comes to when and where their employees work. There may be days when the offices are full, and days when there’s only a 10% occupancy. This will lead to dramatic fluctuations in bandwidth usage.
Bandwidth requirements are calculated using volumes of users and the applications they’re using – the more users on site who are making and receiving video calls, the more bandwidth you need to provide for them. If not, then the experience can degrade, users can become disconnected and begin to feel like it’s not worth going back into the office. If that happens, you might not be able to tempt them back.
So, we just need to buy more bandwidth?
Thankfully not because this is where SD-WAN comes riding to the rescue.
SD-WAN supports dynamic changes to the bandwidth at a site depending on the requirements. It allows you to increase or decrease the services you have at each office, aligned to the needs of the users. This can happen automatically with the ability to ‘burst’ into reserved capacity where it is available.
SD-WAN also offers granular prioritisation for applications. You can set the network to send your UCaaS traffic out of the site first, meaning that any local delays are kept to an absolute minimum.
Large providers like ourselves also offer direct Internet peering with the leading UCaaS providers, meaning that the traffic never leaves our network. This improves the performance further as there’s no need to send the traffic to other providers to reach the ultimate destination.
The great news is that it’s not just UCaaS services that are served by the benefits of Internet peering and SD-WAN.
Most Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications will perform better when SD-WAN and the Internet work together. Given that 97% of customers are investing in public cloud services2 , that’s probably going to help you and your company.
So, SD-WAN can have a huge impact on the performance of lots of cloud services. There are many synergies to consider, not least of which is the agility that both technologies enable. In the post-pandemic working world, that’s a feature you’ll find hard to ignore.