Health and Healthcare Systems

Will the coronavirus break the internet?

Henry Oliver (10) takes part in a youtube P.E. class run by Joe Wicks at their home in East Grinstead, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in East Grinstead, Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia  pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly

As more people are staying home during the coronavirus pandemic, more people are logging on the internet. Image: REUTERS/Adam Oliver

Sean Fleming
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Internet usage is up 50% in some parts of the world as more aspects of our daily lives have moved online.
  • Some remote-work platforms and services have struggled to keep up with increased demand.
  • But ISPs assure customers there should be enough capacity in the networks.

From school physical education lessons to doctors’ appointments, more aspects of our daily lives have moved online due to the coronavirus.

Across the developed world, millions of us are now connecting to the internet from our kitchens, living rooms and home offices every day – causing some internet service providers (ISPs) to see demand skyrocket.

Have you read?

Vodafone, which operates in more than 65 countries, says it has “already seen data traffic increase by 50% in some markets.” Tech news website The Register reported that a number of collaborative working platforms, such as Microsoft Teams and the video conference platform Zoom, were struggling to keep up with users’ demands.

However, despite the surge, the internet is not likely to break anytime soon.

Peaks and troughs

The majority of people now logging on from home are the same people no longer doing so from the office. Vodafone may be experiencing an uptick in demand of 50%, but there aren’t suddenly 50% more people trying to access the internet.

That’s why some ISPs and tech firms are confidently saying there is plenty of capacity in the network.

The problem isn’t the lack of capacity, but the fact it can be overwhelmed by a sudden spike in demand. Mobile internet services are often the most affected by a rush of people online.

Mobile broadband download speeds declined in many Asian countries in January, although fixed broadband fared much better.

Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia  pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly
Download speeds took a hit in many Asian countries. Image: Ookla

Rising to the challenge

The European Commission has taken the unprecedented step of asking everyone to help.

“Streaming platforms, telecom operators and users, we all have a joint responsibility to take steps to ensure the smooth functioning of the internet during the battle against the virus propagation,” the Commission’s Internal Market Commissioner, Thierry Breton, said.

To that end, Netflix will reduce the quality of its streaming movies and TV series to reduce the load on European networks by around 25%.

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Other ISPs have said they will add more capacity where needed. Vodafone, for example, is offering additional network capacity and services to hospitals and doctors in the UK.

And in the US, Comcast opened its network of WiFi hotspots to make them free for customers and non-customers alike. It's also scrapping data caps and taking a relaxed view of late payment of bills.

This isn’t the case in all parts of the world. In many developing countries, there isn’t the infrastructure to handle a significant increase in demand. Many mobile networks are still running on decades-old 2G, while wired and wireless internet connections are far from ubiquitous – all of which makes the possibility of home-working a remote one.

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