The Coronavirus pandemic is causing global disruption in an unprecedented way. Every aspect of our life is being affected, and while the UK lagged behind the rest of Europe in it’s advice, the majority of UK have been ‘working from home’ for the last week. UK mobile networks have been struggling to meet demand in a previously stagnant area – voice. It turns out the old adage ‘it’s good to talk’ still remains true after all.
You might think that mobile networks would be struggling to meet the demand of a huge increase in data usage with an entire workforce suddenly shifting their usage from business provided connectivity to home.
But it’s voice traffic that’s seen the huge surge in the last week, as people check in on family and friends, and well – each other.
Telefonica, who own O2, have confirmed that voice demand has shot up – with last Tuesday seeing a seven times year on year surge in voice call usage.
We’ve added extra capacity to deal with any additional demand and network spikes.
We know people are relying on our network more than ever so we’re working round the clock to keep Britain connected and give you the support you need. https://t.co/zaehcnAagb pic.twitter.com/UFwLGSToy6
— Telefónica in the UK (@TelefonicaUK) March 21, 2020
All the mobile networks have struggled to keep up with the demand for voice. On the peak voice demand day (last Tuesday 17th) there were a series of interruptions in voice service with the BBC citing the blame on “interconnect issues” between the operators”
In a statement to the BBC, O2 said the problem meant that O2, Vodafone and Three customers were unable to connect to EE – and EE customers were unable to connect to O2, Vodafone and Three.
Mobile data usage has remained largely unchanged to date, with people opting for home broadband services to provide their work connectivity, but that was in a week where schools were still open. Next week the vast majority of children (excluding those of key workers) will be at home – all ready for months worth of gaming, chatting and binge watching their favourite shows – all online.
Concern over the ability to meet bandwidth demands is already showing. Yesterday European government official Thierry Breton spoke to Netflix and YouTube, two of the largest providers of streaming video, and “called for lowered video quality” on their services.
Teleworking & streaming help a lot but infrastructures might be in strain.
To secure Internet access for all, let’s #SwitchToStandard definition when HD is not necessary.
— Thierry Breton (@ThierryBreton) March 18, 2020
“Netflix has decided to begin reducing bit rates across all our streams in Europe for 30 days,” Netflix said in a statement quoted by The Verge. “We estimate that this will reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25 percent while also ensuring a good quality service for our members.”
YouTube has made “a commitment to temporarily switch all traffic in the EU to standard definition by default.”
UK-based Internet provider BT reassured people yesterday that despite the current increase in home broadband usage, “we have plenty of headroom for it to grow still further.” UK-based ISPs Vodafone and TalkTalk also said they have enough capacity.
Many mobile operators bundle in streaming music and video services on their plans so its almost certain that data usage in the coming months will experience a steady rise as the nation uses it as its primary entertainment source when pubs, cafes and even parks are inaccessible.
Are we about to see severe congestion on global internet connectivity? The internet was designed from inception to be resilient and re-route around any areas of poor connectivity, but not when entire continents are surging demand at the same time.
Its entirely possible we see regulators and the government step in to safeguard the core communications method of our generation.