BT says it expected no blackouts as a result of increased work from home, but Spanish operators are struggling
The ongoing coronavirus crisis is asking serious questions of national infrastructures around the world, not only in the healthcare sector but also telecoms. Fears of catching the contagious disease have seen many businesses opt for remote working, bringing with it a surge in internet usage as people tap services like video conferencing.
For Spain, which has today implemented a nationwide lockdown due to the rapidly spreading virus, the additional pressure is proving problematic for the telecoms industry. The country is reporting a 40% increase in data consumption, a 50% increase in mobile phone usage, and a boom in over-the-top services like WhatsApp and remote working tools, leading its operators to ask the public to be more sparing when it comes to data.
Movistar (Telefonica), Orange, Vodafone, Masmovil, and Euskaltel released a joint statement on Sunday in anticipation of the national lockdown, urging customers to take “an intelligent and responsible use of the network and the resources it provides us”. The statement encouraged people to avoid sending large documents, to use file compression where possible, and to try to save data-intensive tasks for off-peak hours.
Meanwhile, the UK government is taking an asymmetric approach to the rest of Europe when it comes to coronavirus, not yet mandating the closure of schools and non-essential group events. Nonetheless, there has still been a significant rise in remote working in the last two weeks as businesses preemptively send their workers home. BT, however, says its network can handle it.
For the UK’s largest network, daily traffic typically peaks between 8pm and 9pm, when people begin to stream television, and the additional traffic from people working from home has yet to reach that benchmark.
“I can’t see any way we will see traffic growing to that 8–9pm level,” said Howard Watson, BT’s chief technology and information officer.
Watson stressed that the company expected no service disruption even in the event of a national lockdown, but that they were ready to handle any sudden increase in traffic.
For operators, the coronavirus situation will be something of a double-edged sword. On one hand, remote working is forcing businesses to rely on their connectivity and this could become a permanent solution if remote working on a large scale proves a success; on the other, emerging travel restrictions and making it difficult for operators to get boots on the group for home engineering visits and to deploy their networks.
While UK connectivity will seemingly be minimally affected by the coronavirus outbreak, if the situation continues for the coming months the government may have to put its plans for ‘Gigabit Britain’ on hold for a while.
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