What a global quarantine looks like for networks

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With some of the toughest restrictions on movement that the world has ever seen, we’re now fully getting to understand just how far technology has come. In a world that has been ordered by its governments to stay inside and away from one another, we have never been more connected. Notwithstanding the immense amount of strength our networks need to keep up, we can just about cope with slow video loading times or occasional signal failure.

In Italy, one of the worst affected countries by COVID-19, Facebook had noted a 1000% increase in group calls across March. Total messaging traffic in general had increased by more than 50% across the worst hit countries. Another video conferencing brand, Zoom, has seen a 535% increase in daily traffic as organisations, universities, and schools head online to carry out ‘business-as-usual’. However, how are our networks coping?

In the developing world, many organisations have already overbuilt networks to cope with copious amounts of high-definition streaming content, conference calling, gaming, and other bandwidth-hungry applications. Additionally, now with the ‘stay-inside’ rule, mobile data is seeing a general decrease with BT noting a 5% decrease across March. BT also noted a more than 55% decrease in data roaming, as individuals connect to their homes Wi-Fi instead. Vodafone, O2, and other UK networks are also noting a major increasing in internet usage. Vodafone experiencing a 30% increase and TalkTalk at 20%.

However, for those living in more rural areas and where traffic is peaking, 5G is an important factor in ensuring connectivity. In January, despite some opposition from the US, deployment of 5G networks by the Chinese brand Huawei into Europe and the UK went underway. The Vice President of Huawei told UK ministers that this fifth generation of technology used to deliver mobile internet was pivotal for those living in more rural areas where coverage was not as strong. Despite delays from the virus, the deployment has enabled extra support for any struggling areas.

Networks are coping, and technology is truly empowering, but it cannot be told just how much our networks will be able to cope further. The technology power-house, Facebook, is already noting a challenging situation. With more staff working from home and experiencing new records of usage every day the situation could become harder. British networks experienced an outage late March seeing Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three unable to call, message, or get online. Similar outages have affected remote working tools, such as Microsoft Teams, following a huge influx of new users. Because of this, governments are considering encouraging Facebook, alongside other giants Netflix, Amazon, Appl TV+ and others to lower video quality in Europe to help reduce demand on internet service providers. European Union commissioner Thierry Breton tweeted that “to secure internet access for all, let’s switch to standard definition when HD is not necessary.”

Despite the struggles, networks providers are pulling through and our day-to-day lives can continue with minimal issues. Providers and distributors are able monitor usage patterns immediately, make systems more efficient, and add capacity where required, meaning those that are in the most need will always be connected.