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How Covid-19 is Changing Our Internet Habits

The following post was written by Louis Poinsignon, a Network Engineer at leading web infrastructure and security company Cloudflare.

As the Covid-19 emergency continues, the Internet is clearly playing a vital role. It allows friends and family to keep in touch and stay informed, it lets students attend classes, and it helps people everywhere accomplish essential tasks like ordering grocery deliveries or refilling prescriptions. 

In this new reality, reliable Internet access is also critical for business continuity as employees continue working from home. Video conferences have now replaced daily meetings. And many people who previously worked in an office are likely to continue working remotely for the long term, even when the pandemic ends.  

How have these massive shifts affected Internet usage worldwide?

In cities with lockdowns in place, the impact is clear: Internet usage has surged. Through Cloudflare’s global edge network, we’ve observed Internet traffic shifting from urban business districts to more residential areas and suburbs. People left downtown to work from the safety of their homes, and in doing so shifted the location of their web traffic — while browsing more content. Business-day Internet traffic now mirrors the type of increased activity we generally see on weekends.

Cellular traffic has dispersed as well. With fewer people on the move in areas with a high concentration of businesses and offices, cell traffic has moved to the areas where they live.

Change in Internet traffic for the City of New York between January and late March 2020. The green areas show where the traffic increased, while the red areas (like lower Manhattan) where it decreased.

In major cities like Los Angeles, New York, Paris, and Milan Internet usage has increased anywhere from  20% to 50%.

At these sustained peak usage levels, many people have wondered if the Internet itself is straining under the burden of so much activity. However, big swings in web traffic are common — albeit not for long periods of time, as we’re currently witnessing. Whether it’s a famous sporting event or a yearly eCommerce sale, the Internet was built to cope with major fluctuations in traffic. 

The same resiliency holds true for WP Engine. Since 2018, WP Engine has leveraged Cloudflare’s global edge network, giving its customers the ability to deliver the most secure and reliable digital experiences through Global Edge Security —an enterprise-grade WordPress security solution that WP Engine built together with Cloudflare. Throughout the pandemic, Cloudflare’s team and 200-city network have remained fully operational. And WP Engine and Cloudflare have continued to partner to make sure spikes in Internet traffic don’t impact WP Engine’s performance, reliability, or security globally.

Of course, overall traffic is just one important factor in Internet resiliency. And when we take a closer look at the types of content being accessed, we’ve been struck by the variations.

With children at home, parents are searching for activities and classes, and we’re seeing a 200% increase in website traffic dedicated to kids and students. 

In addition, people are clearly looking to expand their hobbies, resulting in a 120% increase in arts and crafts-related Internet traffic. Games and entertainment similarly surged by more than 100%.On the other hand, sports-related content is down 50%. Furthermore, less people traveling means a decrease in airlines and housing-related websites by around 20%.

While the gain in traffic in some categories is not entirely offset by the drop in others, this results in an overall global increase. While it may look unusual, rest assured that Cloudflare’s load-balancers were built to stabilize the excess traffic and systems will remain completely functional. The Internet was built for this..

Global Edge Security integrates WP Engine’s platform with Cloudflare’s internet security and performance solutions. Through the combination of a managed web application firewall (WAF), advanced distributed denial of service mitigation service (DDoS), SSL/TLS encryption, and a global CDN network, Global Edge Security provides the most secure and scalable digital experience available on WordPress today. 

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