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Coronavirus

Japan's data usage surges 40%, raising overload fears

Stay-home push nears limits of network capacity, experts warn

A man wearing a protective mask takes a selfie at Tokyo's Shibuya shopping district.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- The volume of internet data used in Japan jumped 40% in roughly a month, industry figures show, prompting concerns about overwhelming the network.

This comes as Japanese schools remain in limbo over whether to reopen following a lengthy break. The risks from the novel coronavirus have also led to an upswing in telecommuting and video-streaming from home.

The big three wireless carriers announced Friday that they will offer 50 gigabytes of free monthly data for students  in addition to each individual contract, a move that will increase the network load, especially if distance learning catches on.

The National Institute of Informatics held a data usage symposium via videoconference the same day. Ideas on smoother web conferencing were aired, but concerns about data saturation were also raised.

Japan is home to roughly 15 million students from primary school to the university level, and the new school year normally begins in April. Should web learning become the replacement option of choice, there is a risk of network stoppage in peak periods, experts warn.

Daytime data volume has already surged as much as 40% on weekdays for the week beginning March 23, compared with early February, according to NTT Communications.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has urged residents not to go out on weekends and at night -- a call seen expanding the ranks of people living their lives indoors.

The situation is not unique to Japan. Global data usage during the first quarter more than doubled to 160 terabytes per second, according to Akamai Technologies, a U.S.-based content delivery network services provider.

Microsoft reports that its Teams office collaboration platform drew 12 million new users worldwide during a week in mid-March alone. People have reportedly complained about network problems, depending on certain hours.

NTT Communications says it has the capacity to handle twice the current data load. But as data usage rises, connections have become harder to come by. This is due to the presence of third-party internet providers that connect to NTT's networks. The problem is compounded by the inadequacies of the company's internal systems.

Companies have scrambled to strengthen network capacity. Chugai Pharmaceutical has doubled lines connected to internal systems to 5,000. Seven-Eleven Japan has also increased lines.

On the other hand, major content providers have taken to lowering video quality to take the pressure off. YouTube capped quality at the European Union's request. Netflix cut data volume 25% by lowering quality in Europe and elsewhere.

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