Mobile and broadband networks 'coping well' with home working traffic

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Communications networks around the world are coping with the extra demands placed by the coronavirus crisis and could be an opportunity for the sector to restore its reputation, say analysts.

Many countries have placed restrictions on the movement and activities of citizens in a bid to slow the spread of Covid-19, meaning many people are confined to their homes.

The situation has increased the reliance on home broadband and mobile connections for entertainment, online shopping and doing work and had led to concerns that infrastructure would struggle.

Changing behaviours

However despite some changing behavioural patterns, any predicted meltdown has failed to appear. This is because most networks are built to cope with peak evening demands and streaming services such as Netflix have reduced transmission quality at the request of the EU. Given the spike in traffic caused by the video game Fortnite, it could be that the gaming industry follows suit.

“Broadly speaking, networks are coping pretty well. One of the main reasons for their robustness is that the explosion in fixed-line broadband traffic is mostly happening during the day. Network volumes usually peak in the evening, between about 8:00 PM and 10:00 PM,” explained Kester Mann, an analyst with CCS Insight.

“Statistics shared by BT illustrate this. The operator revealed that, to date, its record evening traffic throughput is 17.5Tbps, driven by video-game downloads and streaming of football matches. In typical daytime working hours, this usage sinks to about 5Tbps. This past Monday, however, daytime traffic had shot up more than 50 per cent from a week earlier, helping the network record its highest-ever data volumes.”

After years of declining traffic, voice volumes are on the rise. In the UK, call duration on O2 rose by 40 per cent in a week with AT&T in the US reporting a 44 per cent increase in calls and Orange Poland 50 per cent.

However call quality has been a concern, says Mann: “If there’s one area where networks have shown some fallibility, it’s mobile voice calls. I’ve heard several reports of dropped calls and diminished quality amid high volumes. However, consumers can easily switch to alternative, Internet-based services or simply revert to using traditional landlines, which have ample capacity. Tellingly, AT&T has seen a near 90 per cent increase in Wi-Fi calls.”

The reliability of communications networks and the measures taken by operators to ensure people stay connected – such as additional allowances, pledges not to disconnect customers that don’t pay bills on time, and zero rated access to important information – will provide huge reputational enhancements in the long run.

“Network operators have a huge role to play in times of crisis and it’s becoming increasingly clear why they’re regarded as critical national infrastructure,” concluded Mann. “During the coronavirus pandemic, these companies have so far stepped up to the mark. But undoubtedly greater challenges lie ahead, and I’m sure any major disruption to service will receive widespread criticism. Maybe more than ever, this is a great opportunity for the telecom industry to enhance its reputation.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.