Home Insight Communication Inflation - How did video calling infrastructure perform in lockdown?

Spending 2020 locked down has made us all familiar with video calling apps. The amount of people using these services exploded in 2020, with many of us still relying on them for business and personal communications.

But were these companies prepared for Covid-19? Our data suggests, probably not

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As a colocation data centre operator, one of our main jobs is to monitor and maintain technical infrastructure. We therefore thought it worthwhile to investigate how the tech infrastructure of communication app companies fared during this surge of activity to help you choose between them.

What we researched

We analysed nearly 30,000 UK app store reviews between January and July in 2019 and again for the same time period in 2020. We looked at reviews for Zoom, Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams & Google Hangouts to gain an insight into the impact of COVID-19 on both demand and performance.

To see how well these companies delivered their services during this period, we lined up their reviews and star ratings with significant events, like government guidance changes and when these companies experienced outages.

What we found

Usage patterns in the UK were strongly correlated with stricter government guidelines regarding social distancing and restrictions on travel.

With millions of new users joining each day during the pandemic, servers used by video calling software providers appear to have become overwhelmed and struggled with capacity as shown by outages they experienced.

We saw similar capacity challenges with some of our clients who had servers in their office at the start of lockdown. When they moved to a ‘Working From Home’ (WFH) model, because their office internet had limited bandwidth, it wasn’t able to cope with all the users logging in remotely. Those issues were quickly resolved by moving those servers (lift and shift) into our data centres.

With the lockdown extending into April, Cisco and Zoom hit peak demand as the public adapted their communication methods. Despite Google Hangouts rivalling Zoom with the numbers of participants allowed, their actual usage numbers remained steady through the months of lockdown. Microsoft Teams on the other hand saw their highest demand in June.

However, greater demand did not always lead to greater service:

  • Microsoft Teams had their average star rating drop to 2.23 in June 2020, considerably lower than their June rating of 3.33 in 2019. This was a result of technical issues during their busiest period while they tried to cope with the spike in numbers.
  • Zoom saw their rating fall to 3.72 in June 2020 due to security breaches and technical issues, with worldwide press coverage of the affair leading to negative PR.
  • Cisco Webex suffered technical issues in June 2020, with app crashes causing issues with users across the country. With over 24,000 schools using the provider, this caused a lot of problems for those trying to educate remotely.

Because the majority of our clients were connecting to their servers in our data centres remotely BEFORE the pandemic, we didn’t see a notable increase in traffic or power usage. There were minor increases in usage from businesses that did a ‘lift and shift’ soon after restrictions were imposed, but because we had so much excess capacity built in to our infrastructure, none of our clients experienced any downtime during lockdown.

Who won over lockdown and who should you use moving forward?

Overall, Zoom won in the battle to be crowned most popular (by use) video calling software, with their number of reviews increasing by 474%. But with such a demand and their technology struggling to meet this, they saw their July 2020 rating drop to 3.88 compared to 4.40 in July 2019.

Despite growth of 15% in the last year, Microsoft Teams ended the study with the lowest rating of just 2.56 out of 5.

With continued uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and future lockdowns, we’re going to continue to rely on these apps. It will be interesting to see how the major providers will adapt their infrastructure and technology to cope with the scaling of their services going forward. For smaller businesses that can’t afford to do full scale migrations into the cloud, the quickest and cheapest way of improving reliability during a second lockdown will be for them to ‘lift and shift’ their servers into a colocation data centre.

Communication Inflation Infographic

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4D Logo Thumbnail About 4D

Your trusted managed infrastructure partner.

We've built our reputation helping hundreds of organisations like yours leave behind reactive systems and keeping pace with changing requirements. We experienced no difficulties from changes in traffic during lockdown and didn’t lose a single client during it.

Our colocation, cloud, connectivity and security services are tailored to your exact business requirements, and we pride ourselves on being a people-focused data centre, who are also equipped with award-winning infrastructure to keep you connected 24/7/365.

Operating since 2007, 4D Data Centres has proven our reliability by never having a power outage and guaranteeing 99.999% network uptime.

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