This article is based on an article from the Japanese edition of Engadget and was created using the translation tool Deepl.

Since the government declared a state of emergency due to the spread of the new coronavirus, most people have been spending more time at home. As a result, there are more opportunities to use Internet services such as news and video feeds, and if you are working, there are more opportunities to use telework-related services such as web conferencing.

This is where the use of fixed broadband connections is growing rapidly. Many mobile communication companies claimed that the use of data communication services did not increase or decrease due to the decrease in the number of outings, but on the contrary, the use of fixed lines such as optical fiber is increasing significantly.

We spoke with Mariko Sakata, a member of the Personal Services Division of NTT Resonant, which operates OCN Hikari and other fixed-line services provided by NTT Communications, about the impact of the new corona virus on the usage of optical broadband lines and the measures taken to improve communication speeds.

Mariko Sakata of NTT Resonant

NTT Communications' OCN is Japan's largest Internet service provider (ISP), which has been providing services for nearly 25 years, including the days of NTT. Currently, OCN mainly provides "OCN Hikari", a service that combines a fiber optic line and an Internet connection, and "OCN Hikari with FLET'S Hikari", an Internet connection service for "FLET'S Hikari", the fiber optic line service provided by NTT East and NTT West.

It is said that traffic on OCN's services has also increased significantly due to the effects of the new corona virus. According to information released by NTT Communications, the traffic increased by nearly 20% between the end of February, before the spread of the new coronavirus, and the end of June, after the spread of the virus. The growth is particularly large during the day and at night on weekdays, but there seems to be significant growth on weekends as well.

▲OCN's weekday traffic, with a 17% increase in daytime traffic and an 18% increase in nighttime traffic compared to the end of February and the end of June.

▲Likewise, OCN's Saturday and Sunday traffic. 15% in the daytime and 16% in the nighttime band, not as much as on weekdays, but certainly a big increase.

The increase in traffic can be attributed to a variety of factors, including increased telework demand during the daytime and video viewing on weekends. However, according to Sakata, OCN has double the original capacity of the peak period, and they are also expanding their facilities as needed, so the network is not slowing down just because of the increase in traffic.

But even so, many people may still find their home fiber-optic connection slow. According to Sakata, there are two main reasons for this, and one of them is the network connection method.

Until now, ISPs have been using PPPoE, a connection method that uses the same procedure as a telephone line to connect to the Internet, to connect to the Internet using an optical line. Recently, however, the number of services that use a new method called "IPoE" is increasing.

IPoE uses the same mechanism as wired LAN to connect directly to the Internet from an ISP, but in PPPoE, the connection is made via an optical line terminating unit (ONU), and as the number of people connecting to the Internet increases, the communication speed decreases due to congestion on the ONU, but IPoE eliminates the need for this and makes it less congested, so it is easier to achieve the true speed of the connection.

However, with IPoE connection, you can only access services that are compatible with IPv6, and you cannot connect to websites that are only compatible with IPv4. Recently, however, a new technology called "IPv4 over IPv6" has been introduced to make IPv4 communication look like IPv6 communication, and IPv4 services can now be used.

▲The difference between PPPoE system and IPoE system is that in PPPoE system, congestion-prone factors such as the need for an ONU are no longer necessary, so the communication speed can be improved.

In light of this, ISPs are increasingly moving to promote a shift from PPPoE systems to IPoE systems. Sakata also said, "PPPoE facilities do not match the current usage even if you look at the communication speed. It is difficult to increase the number of facilities in reality", and OCN is also actively promoting the shift to the IPoE system.

As a measure to achieve this, the company announced on June 11, 2020 that it will offer IPoE connections, which have previously been available only to OCN v6 Alpha subscribers as a paid service for individuals, free of charge as a standard service for OCN Hikari and others. Although it is necessary to change routers and other devices to one that supports IPoE connections, it is expected to improve communication speed and "eliminates the need to enter IDs and passwords for PPoE connections," Sakata said.

According to Sakata, OCN had also been struggling to handle PPPoE traffic for some time, so it was preparing to make IPoE connections free. However, the rapid increase in traffic due to the spread of the new coronavirus made it necessary to provide the service at an earlier stage.

Another factor that is slowing down the speed of communication is the equipment, Sakata said. Just as the connection method is changing from PPPoE to IPoE, the field of fixed-line communication is also undergoing various technological innovations, but many people are probably using the same Wi-Fi router and LAN cables used for fixed-line communication for many years without replacing them once they are installed.

With mobile communications, most people replace their smartphones after one to three years, so they can take advantage of the new communication technology at that time. However, with fixed-line communication, Mr. Sakata explains that because people don't have the habit of replacing their equipment on a regular basis like they do with mobile phones, old equipment becomes a bottleneck that prevents the speed of communication from improving.

However, the fact is that it is hard to replace fixed-line equipment, which requires a lot of time and effort to connect cables and change Wi-Fi settings, etc. When it comes to free IPoE connections, there are probably more than a few people who will just decide to go with what they have now because of the time and cost involved in changing equipment.

In order to deal with these problems that are unique to fixed lines, the ISPs will be required to provide support for the switchover to new equipment. Sakata also said that for this free IPoE connection, the company would like to set up a link to the NTT-X Store operated by NTT Resonant on OCN's information page to sell compatible equipments, and also provide telephone and other support for the introduction of this service.

▲NTT-X Store is featuring IPoE-enabled routers and OCN plans to promote the introduction of IPoE-enabled routers in conjunction with them.

However, the time and effort required to replace equipments to introduce new technology is a major issue facing fixed lines. Services that utilize mobile communication, as typified by SoftBank Air and UQ WiMAX, as fixed-line broadband services, are aimed at such weaknesses of the fixed-line, and if 5G spreads over a wide area in the future, the difference between fixed-line and mobile communication will be reduced considerably if we only look at the theoretical maximum transmission speed. It will be smaller, which could cause it to lose even more market share to mobile.

▲Softbank, UQ Communications and other companies are also putting efforts into selling fixed-line Wi-Fi routers that use mobile lines, and they are increasing their sales because they are easy to install and do not require the same kind of installation and wiring as a fixed line.

Sakata said that the stability of a wired line is a strength of the fiber optic line, but she also said, "I'm not sure how much of a figure (such as communication speed) is really necessary. Rather than just increasing the numbers, we hope to provide services that are more suited to our customers."

It goes without saying that providing a comfortable communication environment, but the key to the future of fixed-line services will be how to provide users with services that take advantage of the unique characteristics of fixed-line services.

This article is based on an article from the Japanese edition of Engadget and was created using the translation tool Deepl. The Japanese edition of Engadget does not guarantee the accuracy or reliability of this article.