How are Europe’s telcos dealing with the surge in traffic?

In recent months, countries around the world have seen a surge in internet and mobile phone usage. Network traffic is unprecedented, as more and more people are confined to working from home and have no other means to contact friends and loved ones. To some network operators, the burden might seem too great whilst others are uniting and working with the public to help them manage the increase and ensure that there is no downtime in this situation.

In the United Kingdom, the biggest telecoms companies including BT, Sky, O2 and Virgin Media have set aside any competition for now and realized that in order to survive this phase, they must unite. As such, they have launched a huge national campaign to encourage the public to help them manage the sudden increase in traffic and reduce congestion on all UK networks.

Again, such a union is unprecedented particularly for such a competitive sector and comes just days after the prime minister announced the closure of all the high streets and ordered the public to stay inside to contain the virus.

The campaign is of course, controlled by media regulator Ofcom and will run across digital and social media and also direct communications to reach the millions of customers subscribed to broadband, and TV deals with the county’s largest providers.

 “Families across the country are going online together this week, often juggling work and keeping children busy at the same time,” said Melanie Dawes, chief executive of Ofcom. “So we’re encouraging people to read our advice on getting the most from their broadband, home phones and mobiles.

The campaign is called Stay Connected and offers information in the form of 7 tips intended to reduce pressure on the networks. The tips are as follows:

1.  Use your landline or Wi-Fi calls if you can

More people are making calls on their mobile network during the day. Because of this high demand, you may find you get a more reliable connection using your landline. If you do need to use your mobile, try using your settings to turn on ‘Wi-Fi calling’. Some smartphones and mobile packages allow your phone to make calls over your broadband network, which often provides the best sound quality and also helps reduce demand on the mobile network. Similarly, you can make voice calls over the internet using apps like FaceTime, Skype or WhatsApp.

2. Move your router clear of other devices

Keep your router as far away as possible from other devices, and those which operate wirelessly. Cordless phones, baby monitors, halogen lamps, dimmer switches, stereos and computer speakers, TVs and monitors can all affect your Wi-Fi if they’re too close to your router. Did you know that microwave ovens can also reduce Wi-Fi signals? So don’t use the microwave when you’re making video calls, watching HD videos or doing something important online. Also, place your router on a table or shelf rather than on the floor, and keep it switched on.

3. Lower the demands on your connection

The more devices attached to your Wi-Fi, the lower the speed you get. Devices like tablets and smartphones often work in the background, so try switching Wi-Fi reception off on these when you’re not using them. If you’re carrying out video calls or meetings, turning the video off and using audio will require much less of your internet connection; or try starting them at less common times, rather than on the hour or half hour. You might also want to manage your family’s online activity, so that different people aren’t carrying out data-heavy tasks (like HD streaming, gaming or video calls) all at the same time. Downloading video in advance, instead of streaming it, can also help.

4. Try wired rather than wireless

For the best broadband speeds, use an Ethernet cable to connect your computer directly to your router rather than using Wi-Fi. This is a computer networking cable which should give you a faster, more reliable connection. They’re available from as little as £3.

5. Plug your router directly into your main phone socket

Where possible, try not to use a telephone extension lead, as these can cause interference which could lower your speed. If you have to use an extension lead, use a new, high-quality cable with the shortest possible length. Tangled and coiled cables can also affect speeds. So can interference from your phone line, so try plugging ‘microfilters’ into every phone socket in your home. They look like little white boxes and split the phone and broadband signals so that they don’t affect each other. Different providers have varying setups in the home, so always check their website before unplugging any cables.

6. Test the speed on your broadband line

Find out what speed you’re actually getting. You can run a speed test using Ofcom’s official mobile and broadband checker. If possible, carry out tests over a few days and at different times of day. A number of in-home factors can affect Wi-Fi speeds, so look on your provider’s website for guidance on improving your signal around the home. You can download Ofcom’s checker as a smartphone app (search Ofcom in Apple’s app store or Google Play) or use it through your internet browser.

7. Get advice from your broadband provider

Then, if your connection isn’t working as well as it should, you can find advice on your broadband provider’s website – which is also available on mobile phones. If you need to contact them for help, please be aware that, because of the coronavirus, some companies have many fewer people to help with your queries. Most are prioritising vulnerable customers and essential public services, so please take this into consideration.

This campaign has been launched after officials from the European Commission reached agreements last week with Netflix, Amazon’s Prime Video, YouTube, and Disney Plus, to reduce streaming video speeds for 30 days and to decrease the weight of internet traffic in both the UK and Europe.

The French government has also asked that Disney Plus – who launched in the UK and six other western European markets on Tuesday – wait until 7th April to launch due to fears that the popularity of certain hits would destabilize the national broadband network. Meanwhile, telcos in Spain, – the worst hit country in Europe, second to Italy – have also issued a joint statement, which pleads with customers not to overload the networks. This method comes as a more reactive approach, as operators rush to invest in extra equipment to manage the surge in traffic, due to the worsening situation.