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Data traffic jumps by over 50% amid boom in telework, online study in Japan: NTT firm

A worker attends a ceremony to welcome new employees online, in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, on April 1, 2020. (Mainichi/Kota Yoshida)

TOKYO -- People across Japan are using increasingly more internet data because of the spread of telework and online classes in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, raising the question of how to deal with a situation that is likely to continue in the future.

Data traffic during the daytime on weekdays has increased by over 50% compared to the same period in late February -- before the spread of the virus in Japan. Though there haven't been any issues such as large-scale data delays, it seems likely that telecommuting will take root in people's lives even after the state of emergency is lifted across the country.

According to network services provider NTT Communications Corp., data traffic during daytime on weekdays increased by 25% between March 30 and April 3; by 49% between April 20 and 24; and by 55% from May 11 (the first full-fledged workday after the "Golden Week" holiday) to May 15, compared to the same period between Feb. 25 and 28.

Although the practice of self-restraint against outdoor activities has eased with new cases of coronavirus infections seeming to have peaked, there is no sign that data usage will decrease. Data traffic during the nighttime peak between May 11 and 15 also increased by 15% compared to the same hours in late February.

The data capacity in Japan is structured to respond to peak data usage at nighttime. An NTT Communications official says that even though data traffic has surged in the daytime, it has not reached its nighttime peak and "as a whole there is still room for more data usage."

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in late April organized a meeting between the public and private sector to consider the current data situation in Japan. Minister Sanae Takaichi said in a May 8 press conference after a Cabinet meeting, "Network data is built so that it can endure peak times, and there aren't any problems. We will mull appropriate measures when needed."

However, when looking at individual internet connection situations, a lack of data and other problems become evident. Around 40 companies have asked NTT Communications if they can boost their internet connections for teleworking, among other requests. Meanwhile, some residents in housing complexes including high-rise apartments are having issues with connection speeds.

What will happen to data traffic after the state of emergency is lifted for the whole country? The government, various telecom companies and experts agree that remote work and online classes will take root to some extent, and things will not return completely to the way they were before the pandemic.

The surge in data traffic is expected to continue as one major telecom firm in Japan says more households are subscribing to internet services since it's inconvenient to telework or participate in online classes via smartphone alone, which many people had been using for their internet connections up to this point.

In Europe and North America, where data usage is skyrocketing, content providers are implementing measures such as lowering the quality of videos they stream to reduce the data burden.

The head of MM Research Institute Ltd.'s research department said, "The new coronavirus has advanced digitalization, which companies had already intended to push forward with, in one swoop."

Businesses may be forced to invest in equipment that can endure increasing data traffic. Although most fixed network plans in Japan allow unlimited usage of internet at an established price, the research department head explained, "We will need to discuss how to handle costs as communications traffic continues to increase."

(Japanese original by Yusuke Matsukura, Business News Department)

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