Internet traffic in Japan saw a roughly 78-time increase in 2020 from the 2004 level, partly due to a surge in online communications in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to government data.
Compared to pre-COVID-19 2019 levels, traffic climbed 1.6 times as the pandemic led to an increase in at-home videoconferencing, distance learning and video streaming.
The surge in traffic has sparked concerns that heavy network congestion may risk a breakdown of online communications, leading the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications to take measures to cushion such a negative impact.
The ministry gathered data from internet services providers and other businesses on traffic involving fixed broadband services.
Data traffic in Japan has risen continuously since the internet was made available around 1995.
Technological advances started with messages limited to text and then to explosive exchanges of photos and videos along with the rapid growth of social media networks and streaming services.
Traffic is expected to only grow as the Internet of Things, which also connects home appliances, becomes increasingly integrated into personal lives.
The COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home requests in Japan furthered people's reliance on the internet for work, classes, leisure and information sharing, leading to more traffic due to video conferences, online classes, watching YouTube videos, gaming and other activities.
Online traffic during popular boyband Arashi's live show late last year rose 10 percent from the weekend before.
There are concerns that congestion on the network would lead to sluggish performance or failure to connect to the internet, disrupting a large segment of society.
In December, the communications ministry set up an expert panel to consider countermeasures against heavy data traffic and put out a report in March.
Recommendations included telecommunications carriers and site administrators working together more robustly, with the carriers informed in advance of any online events expected to use a lot of data.
It also called for continuous capital investment by telecom carriers to prepare for an expected expansion of traffic.
Additionally, it confirmed the aim of dispersing internet exchange points to different areas, as they are currently concentrated in Tokyo and Osaka.
Concerns about the issue are shared by some European countries, where YouTube and Netflix agreed to temporarily reduce their streaming quality to reduce overall data usage.