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5 days into COVID-19 lockdown, Internet exchanges see initial surge, then stability

Indian internet exchanges saw an initial surge in internet traffic during the national COVID-19 lockdown, but later stabilised. Exchanges route information from content providers to internet service providers. Extreme Internet Exchange ( Extreme IX) and DE-CIX, both of which route a significant chunk of web traffic in the country, have more or less settled on a usual daytime average flow of 700Gbps. Traffic first started when some states started shutting cities down (before the national lockdown started on March 25) and when the Janata Curfew was imposed on March 22.

This stabilisation comes even as the COAI asked streaming services and social media companies to reduce the amount of data they used in videos. While streaming services largely agreed to the demand, it’s unclear how much that contributed to the traffic volume settling down.

It’s useful to look at data right March 23, that is, right after the Janata Curfew, since that’s when the surge began, and several states were locked down. Here’s Extreme IX’s weekly traffic for last week (March 23 to March 29):

Extreme Internet Exchange’s traffic over the last week.

The highest traffic spikes were usually seen after working hours, when people returned home from work and consumed content in the evening. Working from home at a large scale seems to have changed that, as we pointed out earlier. Here’s monthly traffic for some perspective:

Extreme IX’s traffic traffic over the last month.

A  similar dynamic has been playing out at DE-CIX, formerly Mumbai Internet Exchange, in India:

DE-CIX India’s traffic over the last week.

DE-CIX also records super-high peaks (although it doesn’t sustain them), so its traffic more than triples at times (with a 2.4Tbps mark at one point this month, before the Janata Curfew):

DE-CIX India’s traffic over the last month. Notice the 100Gbps increase over the last few days, even as the abnormal spikes reduce in frequency.

AMS-IX, a relatively smaller exchange that usually routes less than 60Gbps of data, saw a similar stabilisation:

AMS-IX India’s traffic over the last month.

And then there’s NIXI, which recently opened up to content providers, after over a decade and a half of allowing peering only between ISPs. No content providers (like Content Delivery Networks or streaming services) have joined so far, so the overall traffic remains low, with just a small uptick at the start of the Janata Curfew/lockdown period. And even that seems business as usual. Here are the monthly and yearly charts. It’s not even evident that there was a lockdown from NIXI’s traffic because of how little data the exchange routes:

NIXI traffic over the last month.

NIXI traffic over the last year. Notice how last March saw more traffic than any time during the current pandemic.

These exchanges are a fairly representative chunk of Indian Internet traffic — Cisco estimated that traffic during busy hours was around 8Tbps in India at the beginning of this year, and the exchanges in this article account for over a fifth of that traffic. The forecast, released before the pandemic, also said that the traffic overall would increase between 4.4 to 7.2 times; if this holds, it’s difficult after the initial surge to differentiate between rises in traffic that were happening anyway, and rises in traffic specifically due to COVID-19.

Extreme IX Traffic | DE-CIX India Traffic | AMS IX India Traffic | NIXI Traffic

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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