In early 2020, COVID-19 shut down entire countries and drove an unprecedented surge in demand for bandwidth. People were told to stay home. Offices closed and work moved to home offices, bedrooms and kitchens. Schools and colleges closed, too, and learning had to happen remotely. Social distancing became the norm.
Life and work moved online. Business meetings and gatherings of friends and family took place via online video. Popular video app Zoom surged from 10 million users to 200 million in a few months. Teachers had to create digital lessons and connect with students only through video. Because we had nowhere to go, we watched more streaming entertainment. Netflix alone added 15 million subscribers during the early months of the COVID-19 crisis.
Bandwidth demand reached extraordinary highs. In the first quarter of 2020, internet use in the U.S. and Canada grew between 40% and 50%. Internet use in Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom rose 50%. And use patterns began changing, too. Much more internet traffic has been moving upstream, from homes to data centers – upstream traffic was up by 30% in the U.S. in March 2020, according to Nokia.
These enormous shifts have pointed to the need for continuously scaling network capacity and making investments in technologies like 5G, fiber to the home, and cloud computing, driving demand for networks based on that same optical fiber technology invented 50 years before. And as so much work, socializing and entertainment has moved online, it is being mediated through displays on TVs, notebooks, tablets, and mobile consumer electronics. Corning’s industry-leading glass solutions are essential components for many of these displays and touch interfaces.
If not for the success of three scientists in a Corning lab in 1970, society’s journey through the COVID-19 pandemic could have looked very different.