The next problem we all face is the potential slowdown of the Internet and issues of connectivity. Amid the pandemic, when people are extensively using the Internet-associated services on the web has led to some initial decisions to save Internet data transfer, if the situation is to get worse. Let’s break down why Internet slowdown is the next risk posing all of us, and why we should care.
The World Goes to Lockdown
The entire world is facing the most significant global pandemic since the Spanish Flu in 1918. Today the COVID-19 virus has infected more than four hundred thousand people, leading the governments and administrations to take some bold steps to prevent its spread and transmission. Roads are blocked, borders are sealed, air travel is banned, and entire cities are on lockdown. And, all of this has forced people to remain indoors, and they are advised to stay in self-isolation until further advised.
Corporate offices have advised people to work from home (at least the ones those can). Now, what person who has to break his/her routine and stay inside for days resort to? Internet. And that’s where the problem lies. The more people stay home, Internet services providers will be flocked with a request for data transfers, which has already begun to show adverse effects.
To understand it better, let me clarify a few things about “Internet Speed.”
How do Internet Transfer Rates Work?
When you try to track what Internet speed your connection is receiving, you get figures like 10Mbps or 10 Megabits-per-second. Now that’s not really “speed”. It’s the bandwidth allocated to your connection. It is the amount of data that can be transferred to you per second. So 10 Mbps means 10Mb of data transferred to your connection per second.
Bandwidth is more like a road, where all vehicles must travel at the same speed. For example, a 5Mbps bandwidth allocation would mean a highway where five vehicles can travel simultaneously at the same speed. For a higher number of vehicles to travel, (i.e. data), you’ll need a wider road (bandwidth).
Therefore, the basic understanding is, the wider the bandwidth, the more will be the amount of data transferred to your connection, and hence, better will be the Internet connectivity (speed), you’ll experience.
What Affects the Data Transfer Limit?
In an ideal situation, everyone’s bandwidth allocation is limited. It all depends on the connection type. The more bandwidth you request for, the more you have to pay. To decide the limit for every connection, Internet service providers create separate plans as per the usage of different users. A user cannot receive more data than what has been set as a limit in the plan. This refers to the Data Caps.
Another parameter is the equipment used in the connection. Nowadays, data transfer is carried out via optical fibres, which are capable of carrying wider bandwidths to the users, thus giving a paced Internet experience. But if someone has a connection served via copper wires, which cannot carry higher bandwidths, there’ll be a noticeable difference in the speed.
But what we are facing amid the COVID-19 pandemic is traffic congestion. Let’s get down to this in a bit detailed manner.
Traffic Congestion Causing Internet Slowdowns Amid Coronavirus Outbreak
Earlier, I said that imagine bandwidth as a road carrying data (cars) from the hub to your connection. Now that same bandwidth carries data not just to you but many different connections. And more the cars on the road, more is the traffic, leading to congestion.
Therefore, in terms of the Internet, Traffic Congestion happens when a lot of users are connected to their networks at the same time. The providers are met with an overwhelming flock of requests for data transfers to be allocated, which slows down the speed of the transfer.
This also happens when, in a home network, several devices (users) are connected to it at the same time. Fluctuations in the rate of data transfer are also noticeable when someone is executing heavy tasks such as large downloads or video rendering.
Why is Traffic Congestion an Issue Right Now?
Since people are advised to stay indoors to contain the spread of Coronavirus and corporates are pursuing Work from Home for employees, the home networks and cellular networks have registered a spike in data transfer requests. These networks are now not only used for daily office work (which is executed via a high-speed commercial connection), but also for purposes on the web such as online streaming, social media, and extensive web surfing.
Kids are into games and stuff as schools are down, films are being released on streaming platforms, making the Internet the only reliable source of accessing the latest modes of entertainment.
And then, of course, the cellular networks are serving those without proper broadband connections and are responsible for providing them daily information, which is a necessity amid this time of crises.
With everyone sitting home and accessing the Internet more than ever before, the service providers are unable to cater to the requests simultaneously, resulting in a slow down in data transfer rate. This is causing everyone to experience slow Internet and is, of course, hampering their indoor life, which is very much dependent on it.
Problems Caused by Traffic Congestions
The low-speed Internet caused by traffic congestion has disrupted multiple functions in daily work and personal life. There is a drop in quality of video calls, which have spiked up in numbers as people tend to work while staying home and be in touch with colleagues and subordinates. Digital services such as home-schooling platforms are not functioning correctly, and of course, the streaming services are unable to cope with such a huge demand.
But that’s not the primary problem. If the strain on Internet and bandwidth continues, then it may result in permanent disruption of new provisions to home networks. Since the service providers cannot offer repair and maintenance services due to lockdown conditions in the major cities; we’ll be facing a massive decline in the rate of data transfers. And as providers struggle to keep up with the congestion and increase in traffic patterns, the worst thing that could happen is the lack of net neutrality.
Right now, everyone needs equal access to the Internet, and everyone must be able to receive updates and information in these tough times of global crisis. No region in the world can’t afford the lack of Internet or a total Internet shutdown. And, neither can any administration impose broad restrictions on Internet service provisions. Providers are lifting data caps to help users experience good connectivity even after their bandwidth limit is reached.
It’s a beginning phase, and no significant impact of Internet strain is noticed anywhere as of yet, but precautions must be taken for the worst.
Who is Prone to Maximum Repercussions of Internet Slowdowns?
The new optical fibres connections are not likely to face any issue for now. They have modern connection equipment designed to fill in for the high demands of data transfer rates and have not faced any significant drawback. Still, big-time service providers like AT&T are not taking any risks. The transfer rates are reduced in major cities from 65 Mbps to 45 Mbps. Some cities have, however, noticed an insignificant decrease from 42-45 Mbps to 40 Mbps.
On the other hand, video streaming platforms have degraded their streaming quality to a maximum of Standard Definition and is no more allowing users to stream full HD content anymore. After Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+, YouTube has also joined in to set these limitations to save data and reduce strain on the Internet.
While high-speed broadband connections are in a decent phase right now, people still dependent on cellular networks and old copper-wired broadband connections are more likely to face trouble in the coming days. This will impact their work and their daily Internet dependency; however, a complete shutdown is not in the picture as of yet.
Do Your Part
For now, any significant strain on the Internet is less likely, but disruptions in speed are reported from all over the world. Streaming services are doing their part in reducing the strain and avoiding disruption to achieve equal access to the Internet for all.
Firstly, I think schools and colleges should avoid daily online lectures. Understandably, they have a responsibility, but forcing students into home-schooling isn’t going to help them at a large extent, especially those who aren’t habitual of it.
Besides, for those who are working from home, avoid excessive video conference calls. A lot many issues can be resolved via mails and chat services like Skype and Hangouts. And then, of course, avoid streaming online games or strain the Internet with long sessions of online gameplays with connected friends.
The Internet is the only available medium that is getting everyone valid information to contain this pandemic and get things back to normal again. And, no one can afford to strain the web right now. Use the data wisely, especially the ones who are dependent on cellular networks. While the big trouble in this regard is far far away now, and the providers are capable enough to handle the current demands, we never know what’s next to happen. We need to take measures in advance to tackle any overwhelming situation in the coming months.