How Are Telecom Operators Coping With Increased Traffic?

Rogers Communications Inc. recently told a House of Commons committee that home internet usage is up more than 50 percent compared to before the coronavirus pandemic. Voice call usage on the Rogers wireless network is up 40 percent, and 1-800 toll-free calls are up more than 300 percent. Rogers customers alone are making more than 50 million wireless voice calls per day.

According to Akamai, a tech company that monitors web defenses, global internet traffic has increased by as much as 30 percent since mid-March. That’s almost an entire year’s worth of internet traffic growth in just a few short weeks. It’s important to note that this growth was experienced even with the loss of live sports streaming, which normally accounts for significant global traffic.

When it comes to mobile data consumption, the trends are unsurprisingly similar — especially in areas with heavy lockdowns such as Spain and Italy. Italy — the first European country to go on lockdown — saw peak usage increase by nearly 90 percent.

So how are telecom operators and content owners across the world stepping up to address the impacts of such significant traffic surges?

Telcos everywhere have worked closely with their respective governments to provide increased internet services to the public to help manage the crisis. Engineers are working around the clock adding additional fibre-optic connections and servers to those invaluable central offices that house and reroute customer data.

Video game companies like Sony and Microsoft are bottle-necking peak-hour downloads to help combat the congestion. Massive video streaming platforms like Youtube, Amazon and Netflix have adjusted their encoding rates, sacrificing video quality to help reduce the strain on telecom operators. This is especially pertinent, as major video streaming platforms are reporting massive increases in usage as people spend more time on the couch. The television industry as a whole saw a 20 percent increase in viewership in mid-March, and Amazon’s live streaming platform Twitch saw its total amount of hours watched jump from 33 million on March 8th to 43 million on March 22nd.

In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission has granted temporary access to normally reserved mobile spectrum bands to provide additional broadband capacity. Similar steps are being taken across the planet, from Ireland to Brazil.

AT&T has waived data overage fees in the United States. Vodacom in South Africa has invested $24 million to add network capacity to support remote workers. In Canada, Bell accelerated the rollout of its new wireless home internet service in rural areas. In Wuhan, the original epicenter of the coronavirus virus, China’s three major telecom carriers have set up 5G stations for health care workers in city hospitals.

Businesses everywhere are experiencing unprecedented circumstances, and they have all had to adapt — whether to growth or loss — due to the pandemic. In these strange times, it’s comforting to see the international effort put towards keeping humanity connected.