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Operators plan to cope with increased overheads

There are conflicting views from Spain and the UK over how ready home networks are to cope with extra overheads, as populations are told to work from home

Operators in Spain and the UK have revealed their relative readiness to deal with the extra strains on residential networks, as millions are advised to work at home to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

With unprecedented numbers asked to work from home, inevitably making vastly increased usage of high-quality video services as well as video on-demand, there are genuine concerns that overloaded networks will not be able to cope with the added overheads.

In Spain, in an unprecedented joint statement, the nation’s leading operators – Movistar, Orange, Vodafone, Grupo Masmovil and Grupo Euskaltel – revealed that both fixed and mobile telecommunications networks are experiencing a traffic explosion in recent days as a result of the spread of coronavirus and the resulting measures and recommendations.

Even though they noted that the country was a European leader in terms of fibre optic infrastructure and had one of the best mobile networks in Europe, they appealed that rational and responsible use of the networks would allow all stakeholders, such as service providers, companies and individuals, to ensure that the nation has a quality communication ecosystem that was sustainable over time, in the face of a scenario of increased work and remote schooling that may last several weeks.

The operators have measured that in general terms, traffic through IP networks has experienced increases of nearly 40%, while mobile use has increased by about 50% in voice and 25% in data. Traffic from instant messaging tools such as WhatsApp has increased fivefold in recent days. In a tell-tale sign of the use of teleworking, network traffic related to remote work tools such as Skype and Webex has increased four-fold.

The operators are assuring users that they are taking measures to reinforce their networks similar to those implemented, for example, in coastal areas in summer. These include measures of geographical redundancy for the centres from which the services are managed, diversification of technical means or operational plans for diverting activity to provide services from other locations or remotely.

Yet they accepted that in order to guarantee quality of service and necessary levels of connectivity, their endeavours need to be accompanied by what they call “smart and responsible” use of the network and the resources it provides.

Read more about coronavirus and effect on IT

In the UK, operator of the UK’s largest network, BT, has declared its residential network as able to cope with the expected massive added loads. The incumbent telco told the Financial Times that it was not anticipating any blackouts or slower speeds for users, even if the country went into lockdown.

Howard Watson, BT’s chief technology and information officer, was quoted as saying that patterns of usage may change to reflect different working patterns and customer behaviour, but that BT’s network was built to cope with peak use, which usually occurs between 8pm and 9pm, when people typically stream TV at night.

Only recently, BT announced that it had struck deals that would see more video content streamed over its network, and it reported it had seen a huge spike on traffic – 17.5 terabits per second – following an update to the online video game Red Dead Redemption 2 and the release of Call of Duty: Warzone, but had seen no undue disruption.

Yet there are worrying voices expressing concern that advising workers to stay at home could delay the UK’s national full-fibre build-out programme.

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