Home PC News Comcast credits AI software for handling the pandemic internet traffic crush

Comcast credits AI software for handling the pandemic internet traffic crush

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Comcast stated investments in synthetic intelligence software program and community capability have helped it meet web site visitors demand in the course of the pandemic.

Elad Nafshi, senior vice chairman for next-generation entry networks at Comcast Xfinity, stated in an interview with VentureBeat that the nation’s web community has held up in the course of the surge of residential web site visitors from individuals working at dwelling. But this success wasn’t simply due to capital spending on fiber-optic networks. Rather, it has relied on a collection of AI and machine-learning software program that offers the corporate visibility into its community, provides capability shortly when wanted, and fixes issues earlier than people discover them.

Comcast’s community is accessible to greater than 59 million U.S. houses by way of 800,000 miles of cable (about three instances the space to the moon). Back in March, Comcast stated web site visitors had risen 32% due to COVID-19 however assured everybody it had the capability to deal with peak site visitors calls for within the U.S. The firm additionally noticed a 36% enhance in cell information use over Wi-Fi on Xfinity cell.

“The first part of the growth was because of work from home,” Jan Hofmeyr, chief community officer on the Comcast Technology Center in Philadelphia, stated in an interview with VentureBeat. “Things like video conferencing started to drive a lot of traffic. The consumption of video went up significantly. And then with kids being home, you could see playing games going upward. We saw it go up across the board.”

But since March and April, the site visitors from Comcast’s 21 million subscribers has hit a plateau. People are getting out of their houses extra and the preliminary surge of work-from-home has normalized, Hofmeyr stated.

The firm usually provides capability 12 to 18 months forward of time, with typical plans concentrating on 45% a yr will increase in site visitors. Since 2017, Comcast has invested $12 billion within the community and added 33,331 new route miles of fiber optic cable. Those investments have enabled the corporate to double capability each 2.5 years, Hofmeyr stated.

Above: Comcast government vice chairman and chief community officer Jan Hofmeyr.

Image Credit: Comcast

“With COVID-19, we obviously saw a massive surge in the network, and looking back in retrospect the network was highly reliable,” Hofmeyr stated. “We were able to respond quickly as we saw the spike in traffic. We were able to add capacity without having to take the network down. It was designed for that.”

During the preliminary levels of the pandemic, the brand new applied sciences have been capable of deal with regional surges whereas web site visitors spiked as a lot as 60%. Nafshi instructed VentureBeat the community can’t deal with surges simply by getting greater. In March and April, Comcast added 35 terabits per second of peak capability to regional networks. But the corporate additionally added 1,700 100-gigabit hyperlinks to the core community, in comparison with 500 in the identical months a yr earlier. And its software program, known as Comcast Octave, manages site visitors complexity, working behind the scenes the place clients don’t discover it.

Comcast Octave AI

Above: Comcast’s community makes gigabit web accessible to as many as 59 million houses.

The AI platform was developed by Comcast engineers in Philadelphia. It checks 4,000-plus telemetry information factors (corresponding to exterior community “noise,” energy ranges, and different technical points that may add as much as a big effect on efficiency) on greater than 50 million modems throughout the community each 20 minutes. While invisible, the AI and machine studying tech has performed a helpful function over the previous a number of months.

“COVID-19 was a very unique experience for us,” stated Nafshi. “When you’re building networks, you never build for the situation where everyone gets locked up in their room in their homes and suddenly they jump online. Now, that’s the new normal. The challenge we are presented with is how to enable our customers to shelter in place and work and be entertained.”

Octave is programmed to detect when modems aren’t utilizing all of the bandwidth accessible to them as effectively as doable. Then it robotically adjusts them, delivering substantial will increase in velocity and capability. Octave is a brand new know-how, so when COVID-19 hit, Comcast had solely rolled it out to a part of the community.

To meet the sudden demand, a crew of about 25 Octave engineers labored seven-day weeks to scale back the deployment course of from months to weeks. As a outcome, clients skilled a virtually 36% enhance in capability simply as they have been utilizing extra bandwidth than ever earlier than for working, streaming, gaming, and videoconferencing.

“We’ve had a fair amount of experience already looking at data patterns and acting on it,” Nafshi stated. “We had an interactive platform deployed that we were leaning on. We looked at the data network conditions and decided what knobs we need to turn on our infrastructure in order to really optimize how packets get delivered to the home.”

Comcast took the info it had collected and put it into algorithmic options to foretell the place interference might disrupt networks or hassle factors would possibly seem.

“We have to turn the knobs so that we optimize delivery to your house, which would not be the same as the delivery to my home,” Nafshi stated. “We provide you with much more reliable service by detecting the patterns that lead up to breakage and then have the network self-heal based on those patterns. We’re making that completely transparent to the customer. The network can self-heal autonomously in a self-feedback loop. It’s a seamless platform for the customer.”

Smart Network Platform

Above: The Comcast Technology Center in Philadelphia.

Image Credit: Comcast

Before introducing Comcast Octave, the corporate additionally deployed its Smart Network Platform. Developed by Comcast engineers, this suite of software program instruments automates core community capabilities. As a results of this funding, Comcast was capable of dramatically reduce down the variety of outages clients expertise and their period. The outages are actually lasting a matter of minutes typically, in comparison with hours earlier than, stated Noam Raffaelli, senior vice chairman of community and communications engineering at Comcast Xfinity, in an interview with VentureBeat.

“We are trying to benefit from innovation on software to basically drive our outcomes and our operational key performance indicators (KPIs) down so things like outage minutes or minutes to repair go down,” stated Raffaelli. “We look at data across our network and use data science to understand trends and do correlations between events we see on the network. We have telemetry and automation, so we can operate the equipment without the manual interference of our engineers. We mitigate issues before there is any degradation in the networks.”

On high of that, the tools is safer and extra automated, Raffaelli stated. Comcast has additionally been ready to determine the way to construct redundancies into the community so it might maintain up within the case of accidents, corresponding to a backhoe operator reducing a fiber-optic cable.

“This gives us an unprecedented real-time view of our network and unprecedented insights into what the customer experience is,” Raffaelli stated. “We’ve had a double-digit improvement in outage minutes and repair. We are building redundant links across the network.”

A software known as NetIQ makes use of machine studying to scan the core community constantly, making hundreds of measurements each hour. Before NetIQ, Comcast would usually discover out a few service-impacting problem like a fiber reduce when it began seeing service degradation or getting buyer calls.

With NetIQ in place, Comcast can see an outage immediately. The firm has diminished the typical period of time it takes to detect a probably service-impacting problem on the core community from 90 minutes to lower than 5 minutes, which has paid off throughout COVID-19.

I witnessed a few of this firsthand, as I’m a Comcast subscriber. In 4 months, I’ve had just one outage. I logged into my service account by way of the telephone and acquired a message saying my space was experiencing an outage that was anticipated to final for 90 minutes. After that, the community was fastened and I’ve stayed on it since.

How to enhance gaming site visitors

Above: Comcast manages its community from the CTC in Philadelphia.

Image Credit: Comcast

Gamers are among the many hardest web customers to please, as they need to obtain a brand new sport as quickly because it’s accessible. They additionally need low latency, or no interplay delays, which is necessary in issues like multiplayer taking pictures video games like Call of Duty: Warzone, the place you don’t need confusion over who pulled a set off first.

“We are laser-focused on latency across our network. It’s an extremely important metric that we track very closely across the entire network,” Hofmeyr stated. “We feel very bullish and very excited about what we are able to deliver from a business perspective. I don’t believe that we have a negative perspective, any impact on gaming from a latency perspective.”

He added, “Gaming is writing two things for us. One is the game downloads are just becoming bigger and bigger. This is very common today that a game download is multi-gig. And when they are released, you see massive expansion and growth in terms of downloads. On the latency side, we continuously invest. We are looking at AI. We are looking at software and tools to help improve it over time.”

Game firms spend money on low-latency sport servers and bettering the connections between particular players who’re in the identical match or the identical area so latency doesn’t have an effect on them as a lot. But infrastructure firms like Comcast may also enhance latency.

Content supply networks are an integral a part of making video supply extra environment friendly. Comcast video is delivered by way of the corporate’s personal CDNs, which place movies all through the community to allow them to be delivered in as quick a distance as doable to the viewer. The firm continuously screens peaks in site visitors and designs the community for these peaks. Having lots of people taking part in a sport or watching a video on the similar time establishes new peaks. But the 1,700 100-gig hyperlinks permit the corporate to cope with these peaks by serving to every area cope with peaks in particular components of the community.

The community of the long run

Above: Inside Comcast’s CTC in Philadelphia.

Image Credit: Comcast

While it’s nonetheless early within the course of, Comcast is shifting to a virtualized, cloud-based community structure so it might handle accelerating demand and ship sooner, extra dependable service. Virtualization means taking capabilities that have been as soon as carried out by massive, purpose-built items of {hardware} — {hardware} that required guide upgrades to ship innovation — and shifting them into the cloud.

“Transitioning into web-based software is helping us self-heal much faster and build our capabilities faster,” Nafshi stated. “If there is a failure point, you fail at a container level rather than an appliance level, and that greatly reduces the time to repair and mitigate.”

By doing this, Comcast will scale back the innovation cycles on these capabilities from years right down to months. One instance of that is the digital CMTS initiative. (A CMTS is a big piece of {hardware} that serves a whole neighborhood, delivering site visitors between the core community and houses.) Increasingly, Comcast has been making these units “virtual” by transitioning their capabilities into software program that runs in information facilities.

This not solely permits Comcast to innovate sooner, it additionally supplies two key advantages for purchasers. First, it permits the agency to introduce a lot smaller “failure points” into the system, grouping clients into smaller teams so if one a part of the community surroundings experiences a problem, it impacts far fewer individuals. Second, the digital structure lets Comcast leverage different AI instruments to have far higher visibility into the well being of the community and to self-heal points with out human intervention.

Upload speeds elevated considerably throughout COVID-19, however not almost as a lot as downloading did. Uploads are pushed by issues corresponding to livestreamers, who share their video throughout a community of followers. In the long run, Comcast is promising symmetrical obtain and add speeds at 10 gigabits a second. It hasn’t stated when that may occur, however Cable Labs, the analysis arm of the cable business, is engaged on the know-how.

“It’s something that is very much in development,” Hofmeyr stated. “It’s going to be remarkable. We can deploy on top of existing infrastructure by leveraging AI software and the evolving DOCSIS protocol.”

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