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How we're using the internet while sheltering at home

AT&T's Scott Mair says we're going online in different ways and in different places than before the coronavirus pandemic.

Not surprisingly, video conferencing use is up big time.
Sarah Tew/CNET
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If you're one of the many people now working at home during the coronavirus pandemic, you know how important a reliable home internet connection is. If your network slows, you can't complain to your IT department. Instead, it's your internet service provider that has to support both your data needs and those of its other quarantined customers.

Now playing: Watch this: Is working from home dragging down our broadband?

Scott Mair, president of technology and operations for AT&T, says his company has seen increased demand on its core network over the past three weeks, but the bump has only about 19% from pre-pandemic levels. Mair spoke to CNET Editor at Large Brian Cooley as part of CNET's Now What interview series.

"There's a lot of traffic, but it's occurring in different places versus where the norm has been," he said. "Business areas have less traffic, but it's showing up in residential and suburban areas where we normally wouldn't see it. But at an aggregate level, the backbone is doing really well."


Mair went on to cite statistics on how customers sheltering at home have changed their data use over the past month. 

  • Wireless voice calls are up by 30% to 40%
  • Text messaging has increased by 40% to 45%
  • But, surprisingly, email use is down 15% to 18%

Of course, it's not unexpected that teleconferencing use has boomed as people work from home -- Mair says AT&T has seen a healthy increase of 200%. If you notice your network crawls during calls, he suggests beginning your meeting at times other than the top or bottom of an hour. "Adjust a little time one way or the other…if there is any congestion, you're likely going to avoid that."

He also suggested that this will be a good time for customers to realize the promise of 5G, because tasks like streaming video will only get faster with the next-generation wireless technology. "I think people are focused on the reliability of their connectivity," he said. "When you think about 5G, it will be more robust in terms of data speeds and response time."

Mair had much more to say. Watch the interview for the full story. 

Now What is a video interview and panel series with industry leaders, celebrities and influencers covering the major changes and trends impacting businesses and how consumers connect in the "new normal" 2020 world and beyond. There will always be change in our world, there will always be technology helping us navigate that change, and we'll always discuss surprising twists, turns and potential solutions.