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UK network resilience improves during Covid-19 lockdown

UK’s fixed networks handling increased traffic well since lockdown, but customer experience is somewhat affected, especially when connected via Wi-Fi, on several days starting 20 March 2020

In the latest of its analyst of the network resiliency of residential broadband networks in Europe’s major economies during lockdown, customer experience measurement firm MedUX has found that the UK’s broadband infrastructure has coped well with the massively added demands, after a shaky start, since the early days of lockdown.

MedUX has been monitoring the impact of Covid-19 on the customer experience since the pandemic struck Europe, with internet traffic increasing due to mobility restrictions, lockdown measures and work-from-home policies.

It collected customer performance data in real time from Ethernet connections and Wi-Fi performance, and its report is based mainly on the nationwide UK average performance of wired connections to the router (via Ethernet) in addition to analysing Wi-Fi and regional performance for some indicators.

Very high-speed Digital Subscriber Line (VDSL) and hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) technologies with speed profiles ranging from 30 Mbps up to 100 Mbps for the four biggest operators – namely BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Sky – have been taken into consideration.

MedUX said that overall, the UK’s fixed networks have been handling the traffic increase well, and internet service quality has been reasonably stable, but customer experience has been somewhat affected, especially when connected via Wi-Fi, on several days starting 20 March 2020. This was just a few days before the UK government imposed a lockdown on the whole population, and by then schools, colleges, nurseries, restaurants, pubs, clubs and indoor leisure centres were ordered to close their doors nationwide.

The service degradation measured varied across technologies, operators and regions, but MedUX said that in general connectivity and service availability have been high, with operators playing a fundamental role in mitigating the effects of the internet traffic increase by taking reactive and proactive measures to maintain service quality and customer experience while supporting society during this time.

MedUX measured the drop in average compliance with contracted speeds for wired connections (via Ethernet) to be highest during the evening hours of the two weeks beginning 23 and 30 March. On average during those weeks, downlink compliance for 60-100 Mbps speed profiles was up to 4% lower than in the weeks before the lockdown.

The study found that all regions in the UK were affected by network issues in some way, but – considering latency as a reference – the South West and South East of England, as well as London, had a relatively more severe degradation in 100 Mbps services.

Comparing the week beginning 23 March to the week beginning 24 February, latency increased in most UK regions. Even though general weekly or daily average impact was not found to have been very material, significant degradations were though observed in basic parameters, including: latency, up 100% % and above the gaming excellence reference of 20 ms; packet loss, above the generally acceptable threshold of 1%; and contracted speed compliance, below 80%, during peak hours of around 20:00-21:00 on the worst-performing days.

Looking specifically at packet loss, on an hourly basis between the first week of March (pre-Covid-19) and the week beginning 6 April, several hours with an exceptional increase in the phenomenon were observed for some operators and speed profiles, especially during peak hours on the worst-performing days of the week beginning 16 March.

The MedUX study also regarded Wi-Fi performance as a key indicator, noting that it should be taken into account to evaluate the true user experience, considering that a minority of devices are connected via Ethernet directly to the router. During the study period, the impact on contracted speed compliance over wireless connections (via Wi-Fi) for 60-100 Mbps services was significantly higher than that mentioned above over wired connections (via Ethernet) during the worst-performing days of the lockdown.

In conclusion, MedUX said its statistics found that the days when internet services have been most affected were during the second half of March and the first half of April. Fortunately, it said these days are past, and network performance seems to be getting back to normal, probably as a result of the hard work of operators and several network improvement measures in response to the coronavirus crisis. Moreover, MedUX believed that the coronavirus lockdown in the UK will make the internet and the networks stronger than ever.

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