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An amazing infrastructure

Covid-19 impact on Internet performance in Italy. The graphic shows performances in various European Countries, In the last monitored week in the graphic Italy shows a decreased performance due to the huge traffic demand. Image credit: OOKLA Speed Test

We are going through something that just 3 months ago was unthinkable and I am amazed how, overall and through the endeavour of millions people around the world, we are copying with it.

We are lucky to have a worldwide communications infrastructure, Internet (but it is actually a mesh of wire and wireless pipes resulting from an investment of trillion dollars and continuously maintained by millions of people), that is sustaining the shift to the cyberspace as more and more physical premises are locked down and people work from home. More than that. By staying locked at home social relations have shifted to the cyberspace, we still go to a cinema to watch a movie but that cinema is in the cyberspace and we go there with friends and exchange comments in real time as if we were actually seated in a theatre.

The major traffic producers, from Netflix to Disney and YouTube, are reducing the resolution of their content to decrease bandwidth demand, still the surge in traffic has been staggering and sharp.

In Italy after decades of discussion on home-work (now it is called agile work) and remote education all of a sudden, and in the space of a week, it is happening and, surprise surprise, it works pretty well. Kids from kindergarten to university are now connecting daily with their teachers and the education program is progressing smoothly. Unbelievable.

At the core, behind the scene, is a communication network and availability of smartphones, that make this possible. Internet is showing some slow down here and there, in Italy we have seen some 10% slow down, in Malaysia, just to mention another country at the other side of the world, the slow down is between 5 and 10%. All in all I am amazed by the capacity of our infrastructures. The Milan Internet Exchange is now routinely managing 1Tbps, an increase of 25% from the peak traffic of a month ago.

To show the incredible capabilities offered by our smartphones and the communication networks take a look at the clip of a Virtual Va Pensiero, Giuseppe Verdi. It was created with choir singers singing on a soundtrack from their home using their smartphone as a mike. The result is both technically impressive and humanly intense. (for those not able to read Italian, the first part explains that Italy is forced to stay home and this has a big impact on many aspects of economic and social life, including musicians and entertainers).

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.