The novel coronavirus is exerting influence on every part of our daily lives, from the places we can visit to the way we spend our downtime, and to our spending habits. Most significantly, as the disease makes its way around the globe, we are gradually shifting from the real to digital world in order to cope with the current situation. Hundreds of millions of people are in lockdown as we speak. Many countries have ordered their citizens to stay inside in order to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.
This, of course, means people are spending considerable time online. Usage of messaging, e-learning, and video conferencing has increased this month which is placing enormous strain on the Internet and boosting traffic. And with more people working from home, online media consumption is inevitably increasing as well.
But how is all of this affecting the Internet, streaming services, and more? Well, stick around to find out!
Most of us have experienced the decrease in streaming quality and download speed since the start of the pandemic. And some of us are probably wondering whether the Internet — including our mobile networks and broadband connections — can cope with an increasing number of people logging in from the comfort of their homes.
So far, the answer is a resounding yes! Although Akamai, a company offering cloud services, states that there is a 50% growth in Internet traffic. Some carriers have even offered free data traffic to their customers to ensure they remain online. Additionally, there are those who have asked people to use fixed broadband networks and stop playing bandwidth-heavy video games.
But fear not! Most developed countries rely on the Internet infrastructure that is able to endure this increase in data usage. Therefore, no — for the time being, the coronavirus won’t break the Internet.
Nevertheless, let’s look at how this pandemic is affecting our time online.
Although experts say that an outage is unlikely to happen, people are reporting that their Internet connections are slowing down at home. This is probably occurring because more people are now making video calls while connected to Wi-Fi than they did before the pandemic. In fact, in mid-February, when the coronavirus spread throughout Italy and Spain, these countries suffered lower Internet speeds.
Additionally, as people began social distancing in the United States, the average time to download documents, videos, and emails increased. Specifically, Ookla, a broadband speed testing service, revealed that broadband speeds decreased by 4.9%.
Unsurprisingly, people are messaging, video-chatting, and streaming like there’s no tomorrow now! This has reflected in the shift in peak Internet usage. Namely, before the lockdown, downstream traffic used to peak at around 9 p.m., but it’s now moving to 8 p.m. On the other hand, upstream traffic’s peak usage was at 9 p.m. However, it’s now during daytime in the USA. This doesn’t come as a surprise. We know that people are encouraged to stay at home and refrain from going out with their friends.
Obviously, increased usage can lead to network congestion which then brings about latency. Latency measures the amount of time it takes for information to get from a server to your computer. If you’ve experienced some video chat issues, then this can be an indication of high latency.
However, BEREC, the European Union’s telecommunication regulation agency, stated that the novel coronavirus hasn’t created any major Internet congestion so far, while admitting that traffic has surged.
And now onto the biggest beneficiary in these challenging times — social networks. People are relying on these platforms to connect with their loved ones and access the latest news from around the world. According to a recent research, 66% of social media users believe that they will spend more time on these platforms in case they are in lockdown.
What’s more, 64% of them predict that their usage of YouTube will increase, while 63% expect they will be more active on Facebook until the pandemic passes. However, these aren’t the only networks which are benefiting at the moment.
Obvious.ly examined user behavior and concluded there was a 76% growth in likes on ad posts on Instagram in mid-March. Not only this, but the company also studied data from TikTok influencers and determined there was a 27% engagement jump from February to March. These surging numbers in social media consumption indicate that physical distancing is, indeed, becoming a trend everywhere.
Even though BEREC tried to calm people, worries still persist over the negative impact video conferencing and streaming content have on the web and its speed. So much so that Thierry Breton, the EU’s commissioner for internal market and services, issued a plea to streaming platforms to reduce their video quality so the world could avoid an overload. And some obeyed his wishes.
Last week, Netflix and YouTube both decided to cut their streaming quality in Europe. They did this to ensure the Internet wouldn’t collapse during the coronavirus pandemic. These measures are aimed at all video streams and will be in effect for 30 days. As you can see, governments and major companies have come together to save the Internet from breaking!
Netflix and YouTube’s move has raised a few eyebrows among those who are staunch supporters of net neutrality, i.e. the principle that Internet service providers should treat all content and users equally. However, the companies remain unfazed by the criticism.
Some experts even predict that governments could soon ask operators to prioritize some services over others. This means that, to keep things moving, Netflix might still be lower down the list when compared to Zoom and other platforms offering remote conferencing services. Even though countries are in lockdown, they need to ensure that the economy is thriving and companies going about their business.
Albeit no one can predict when the coronavirus pandemic will be over, multiple Internet service providers remain hopeful. They’ve asserted that the Internet backbone was built for moments like this one and that it can endure whatever comes its way. If we believe their words, then there’s no reason to panic. The Internet is here to stay and it will still bring joy and much needed distraction from current affairs.