The world is living in an unprecedented time where more than one third of the global population is under some sort of lockdown or quarantine because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Billions of people have to spend a lot more time at home and rely on the Internet to work, communicate, play, entertain, inform, pay and a lot more. And all of that brought some somewhat unexpected issues to the surface.
We all thought that the Internet is already heavily used, it turned out that maybe we haven’t really seen what actually heavy usage means. Telekom Italia, for example, said there was a 70% increase in traffic after the lockdowns in Italy. Many other ISPs reported big jumps in the network usage. Luckily, there were no major disruptions, but the entire industry had to act fast.
As hundreds of millions of people had to stay at home, they turned to the Internet to stay connected to the outside world. Videoconferencing apps became a hot commodity with teams in all kinds of businesses having to work remotely. But not only that. Those same people then continued to use these apps after work was done. Why? Because they wanted to stay in touch with their friends and relatives. So, they continued to have video conferencing chats, often while streaming a movie or playing games.
Even Facebook reported that it’s under unprecedented load with having a vast amount of people spending hours on the platform. While that’s a dream for any company, it also turns out that it means a lot more work. And that’s a problem right now as many of the IT giants and ISPs’ workforces are also at home. This means taking the additional measures to ensure network stability is even more of a challenge.
As a result, additional steps were taken. The European Commission (EC) stepped in and urged streaming providers to lower the video quality. Pretty much all of the big names did so already. As online video accounts for more than 60% of the total downstream volume for 2019 (per Sandvine), this reduction gave the network a much needed breath.
What will follow
Despite all of the issues, EC said, that telecoms aren’t allowed to throttle internet giants or services even during traffic spikes. EU’s net neutrality rules still stand firm, Reuters reported. Telecom providers can take measures to prevent gridlocks, but they can’t block, slow down or prioritize traffic. This is exactly why the EC turned to the streaming providers and asked them to help out by lowering the video quality. Thus, ensuring everyone has a fair share and access to the services.
As a result, users are reporting network slowdowns during peak hours, but usually it’s manageable and not too severe. But the strain will continue for a while. And the more it continues, the more at risk the telecoms are. Not because of the network, but revenue-wise.
“This increase in traffic will not lead to any significant increase in revenues for telecom operators as most consumer offers for consumers products are based on flat-rate fees for broadband, mobile data traffic as long as consumption caps are not reached. The real question is more on the longevity and depth of this crisis. A deep and prolonged recession in Europe could nevertheless put some, if limited, pressure on telecom operators’ revenues,” said Jacques de Greling, an analyst for the Scope research group to Telecoms.com.
So, pretty soon telecoms and ISPs will have to tackle another challenge – if the lockdowns become longer, how to balance network maintenance and revenues. Raising the prices is the obvious answer, but it would definitely get met with heavy criticism and resistance from users who will also have lower incomes. It will be a tough challenge. Hopefully health experts will be able to solve the outbreak before it comes to that.