Europe’s telecommunications operators perpetuate myths about the growth of Internet traffic. on September 26, 2022 CEOs of 16 telecommunications companies “the biggest traffic generators should make a fair contribution to the huge costs they currently impose on European networks,” he said. They say they fear a lack of digital infrastructure to support this traffic. Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone did the same When you say that the growth of internet traffic in February is 50%! They did not define the time period, nor did they measure it with any unit.
But while that 50% growth figure is meant to sound high, it doesn’t really tell us anything about Europe’s internet infrastructure and whether it’s equipped to handle it. It’s about as useful as telling us we need more highways without knowing how many cars are already on existing roads.
Various sources allow us to connect some dots. It is important to note that “traffic” can be understood as peak traffic or general traffic. The difference is clearly important. The total traffic on any network reaches large numbers, but congestion only occurs when peak traffic exceeds the available capacity. A freeway can handle more vehicles throughout the day than at rush hour.
This was stated by the Senior Vice President of Public and Regulatory Affairs of Deutsche Telekom January 2022 blog post: “YouTube generates the most data traffic on Telecom’s mobile network: it averaged 357 terabytes per day in 2021, a remarkable 96 percent increase compared to the previous year.” He concluded: “One thing is certain: the uncontrolled growth in traffic volumes generated and monetized by a few large Internet platforms is not sustainable.”
As scary as it sounds, these big numbers don’t mean much when translated into numbers that you and I understand. 357 terabytes per day for YouTube on the T-Mobile network is just 7 megabytes (MB) per day per customer, or less than 30 seconds of video at 2 megabits per second (Mbps). T-Mobile has 53.2 million customers in its German network.
7MB is the equivalent of five of those old 3.5 inch floppy disks you may remember from the 90s! The only way this kind of traffic is non-persistent is if T-Mobile Germany actually sends that traffic to its customers by mail using floppy disks and Deutsche Post.
Do Orange, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom and Telefónica really have a reason to worry about traffic growth? And what are they telling their investors and others about it? Let’s look at some of the major network providers one by one.
Orange: Available capacity can accommodate an increase in usage
Telecom firms tell different stories depending on their audience. Orange, for example, doesn’t mention traffic anywhere in their financial statements, which seems odd if it’s so important to their CEO.
A Blog post published by Orange during the COVID-19 pandemic stated that it should not lead to congestion: “In fact, the networks usually air in the evening, especially when showing high-audience events (such as major sporting events or certain popular series). The existing capacity can therefore accommodate the growth in relations that we are currently seeing.” Orange management appreciates the innovation Nokia routers capable of handling 230 terabits per second (Tbps). for the router. The router “can gracefully evolve our networks as we continuously strive to manage both planned and unexpected demands.” So is 230TB/s enough for a router for the traffic that the Orange network has to handle?
Fortunately, there is public information about traffic growth on the Orange network. French regulator Arcep publishes an annual report About the amount of internet traffic exchanged to and from the four largest French internet service providers (ISPs), including Orange France. Total peak internet interconnection traffic in 2021 was 35.6 terabits per second (Tbps), plus an additional 7.5 Tbps of intranet traffic by content delivery networks (CDNs), for a total of 43 Tbps at the end of 2021.
This means that the total amount of internet traffic exchanged by French ISPs in 2021 showed a 25% increase in peak interconnection traffic per year. In the same report, Arcep says that the interconnection capacity of ISPs in 2021 will increase by 40% from 67Tbps in 2020 to over 95Tbps. This 95Tbps is the capacity of the lines connecting these four French ISPs to all the other 75,000 networks that make up the Internet. This means that France had 2.7 times more capacity than the actual generated interconnection traffic.
Terabits per second may not be easy to understand, so we can translate this amount of traffic into per-subscriber meaning. With 30 million broadband subscribers in France, that’s an average of just 1.5 Mbps of traffic per subscriber. With connection speeds often above 1Gbps, French consumers need not worry about the network’s ability to handle 1.5Mbps of traffic, which is just 0.15% of the actual capacity of their connection.
It appears that with routers in the hundreds of Tbps and actual peak traffic from French telcos of around 43Tbps, Orange is right to say that its available capacity is absorbing the growth. It also means that there is neither the 50% increase in traffic that its CEO claimed earlier this year, nor is there a lack of existing digital infrastructure to carry that traffic – au contraire!
Vodafone: Costs fall faster than traffic growth
Vodafone also tells its investors not to worry: Although it notes a 50% traffic increase for fixed and mobile data, it says that this is not peak traffic, but the total data usage during the day in exabytes. However, networks are also built to withstand peak data usage. According to Vodafone, peak traffic has increased by 30% on landline and 75% on mobile within two years. This means a 14% year-over-year increase in landline and a 32% year-over-year increase in mobile. However, Vodafone went so far as to reassure investors that costs were falling faster than traffic growth.
Deutsche Telekom saw only 20% growth, and Telefónica is not worried either
Deutsche Telekom does not mention its traffic in its annual reports, but in an interview with German consulting company WIK, it confirmed that peak traffic growth in Germany was 20% year-on-year before the pandemic. This is a stark contrast to the 50% or even 97% that Deutsche Telekom has reported elsewhere. COVID did not cause an increase in traffic on Deutsche Telekom’s network in part because streaming services voluntarily reduced video bandwidth or increased compression.
WIK he says: “According to Deutsche Telekom’s observations, the increase in traffic caused by COVID-19 in France cannot be observed in the same way in Germany. While traffic was still up sharply in Q4 2019, it slowed again in March 2020 [initiatives] reduce the resolution of video services (from HD to SD). Classic seasonal traffic patterns again dominate the impact of COVID-19.
At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, Telefónica It saw a 40% spike in traffic, but was well equipped to handle it. It congratulates itself on its robust infrastructure, indicating that telcos are perfectly equipped to deal with current traffic levels. Telefónica’s Corporate Regulatory Manager said recently Traffic growth in Europe has been 32% over the last ten years, or a 16-fold increase. That would be a 57-fold increase, not close to the 50% growth noted by Telefónica’s CEO. In detailed financial reports, traffic levels or related costs are not generally mentioned by Telefónica.
So none of the four telecoms firms whose CEOs wrote a letter in February urging EU lawmakers to introduce network usage charges have any reason to worry about traffic growth or network capacity.
How do other telecoms work?
It’s not just these four big players that have demonstrated that they can handle traffic growth with ease. BT is one of the few network operators to provide detailed information about traffic on its network. IT in 2022 told investors its total traffic peak – for broadband, business (ethernet) and mobile – was 28Tbps, with 1Tbps peak for mobile, the remaining 27Tbps for broadband and business. That’s around 2.5-3 Mbps per BT broadband customer.
The COVID-19 lockdowns weren’t difficult for BT either. On March 20, 2020, BT explained this traffic growth is within manageable limits and there is plenty of room to grow. At that time it had a peak of 17.5Tbps and a daytime peak of 7.5Tbps. Although traffic has increased, peak traffic growth has been fairly stable. Traffic growth is 28% from 2021 to 2022, while fixed broadband growth is only 10% from 2021 to 2022. BT also charted how traffic during the lockdown was distributed differently during the day compared to before and after. This may mean more gigabytes per user of daily traffic, but not higher traffic peaks to manage.
BT’s reported bandwidth usage per subscriber is comparable to other telcos and ISPs. KPN in the Netherlands published one wholesale offer for FTTH covering 5Mbps traffic with an increase of 21% per year. Other providers have to pay €1.34 per month for it, or just 27 cents per Mbit/s.
SKV Veendam provides fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) internet to 11,000 customers in a city in the north of the Netherlands. Unlike most ISPs, it publishes its traffic statistics in real time. This provides valuable information about the internet usage of an entire city. “Normal” evening peak traffic is about 26Gbps, or 2.5 Mbps per subscriber. On the evening of the hugely popular Formula 1 Mexican Grand Prix, all the additional live streams generated a total traffic spike of – wait for it – 3Mbps per subscriber and 33Gbps in total! Since SKV has twice the 40Gbps backup capacity, it can suffer a half of its network outage and still serve all of its customers. As Arcep reported for four French telcos, SKV has 2.5 to 3 times more capacity than needed to handle extreme peak traffic.
So, despite the claims of telecom CEOs, overall internet traffic and traffic growth in Europe is not remarkable. Their companies’ presentations to shareholders and data shared by researchers prove this. Indeed, if fiber internet has a capacity of one gigabit or more per customer, but we only use a few Mbps on average, the telcos have plenty of breathing room and no reason to complain.