While most people have accepted the new reality — social distancing, coronavirus quarantines and lockdowns, public transport asked to take a break and working from home — even if they may not be happy about, one thing that everyone agrees is on is that any measure of self-isolation would be infinitely worse, without the internet.
As the world is slowly adapting to the virtual way of living, the internet becomes more than just a basic essential. It’s everything. Even so, it becomes crucial for internet service providers (ISPs) and telecom companies to help people during the coronavirus pandemic as work from home, online classes, online games and streaming video and music grows in traction. Plus, connectivity is critical for the healthcare infrastructure.
In the past few weeks, consumers and businesses have been complaining about slow internet speed, dropped video calls, buffering OTT content and delayed or no response from the customer care support due to coronavirus outbreak. Many experts and analysts that Inc42 spoke to said that the existing telecom infrastructure does not support a drastic increase in data consumption.
However, some said that it is an unprecedented event, and no one had planned for this to happen and any blockages will be resolved in the coming days.
Imagine A Quarantine Without Internet
In the time of coronavirus lockdown, it becomes important for consumers and businesses to know that their network can handle the daily stress since that’s pretty much the only way business is working these days. With most of the world behind doors, it’s impossible to work without internet or hope to conduct business that doesn’t involve any of the essential services.
Recently, in Europe, the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Videos, YouTube and Facebook were asked to cut their bandwidth usage by the regulators amid high demand. In India too, OTT video streaming platforms have committed to limiting their content to standard definition or SD quality which is easier on the bandwidth.
“It’s a global phenomenon,” according to Anand Agarwal, group CEO, Sterlite Technologies (STL), an end-to-end network solutions company.
He further said that the data consumption in India has tremendously increased by 40-45%, and the networks are now running at full capacity. According to experts, this is only going to increase in the coming days, as the entire country is under lockdown for the next three weeks.
Additionally, the location of consumption has also been shifted to newer areas of consumption. For instance, before the Covid-19 situation, a lot of data was being consumed in the central business district area which had the better infrastructure, but now it has moved to the suburb and residential areas, added Agarwal.
Therefore, the current network infrastructure is not geared up to manage this demand. In the coming days, people are likely to experience slowdowns in data speeds, video call drop, and poor connectivity shared Agarwal.
Star India also said that the lockdown has added pressure to bandwidth, so OTT players such as Hotstar and others have resolved to immediately default HD and Ultra HD streaming to SD content or offer only SD content, at bitrates no higher than 480p until April 14, 2020.
Building Infrastructure For Homes
Many experts believe that the long-term solution for addressing this problem relies on faster fibre rollouts and fibre-to-the-home (FTTH). Today, fibre-optic internet services are 3x faster compared to the cable network with a speed of not less than 250-1000 Mbps in both directions. It becomes crucial for the government and telcos to invest in faster fibre infrastructure and network modernisation to virtualised infrastructure.
“There are multiple new discussions happening to improve the overall network traffic issue,” said Agarwal. He further said that for a short-term and mid-term solution to the network issue, the telcos and ISPs can use tower-on-wheels, wherein they can push localised power and locate closer to the area of consumption in residential neighbourhoods.
“There are multiple points where localised edged data centres are being set up again in a temporary manner, which is already happening at a global scale. However, I am sure this will start materialising in India, as the internet has already been classified as essentials,” said Agarwal.
Based in Pune, STL offers data network solutions to telcos and works with internet service providers wherever strengthening, maintenance, and new service is required when the emergency or need arises.
How ISPs Are Keeping India Online
Before we delve into the network issues and problems in the times of coronavirus, let’s look into the broadband speed provided by ISPs in India. As per TestMy.Net, it revealed that ACT offered the highest download and upload speed (40 Mbps), followed by Tata Sky Broadband and Airtel. On the flipside, MTNL, Jio, BSNL and Vodafone offer the least internet speed (>10 Mbps).
As a measure to ensure uninterrupted internet access, recently Bharti Airtel has urged its arch-rivals Reliance Jio, Vodafone India and state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) to come together and help people to get wide coverage of 2G, 3G and 4G services.
ACT Fibernet, on the other hand, claimed that its network is future-ready and has sufficient capacity to scale up and meet any demand. Prasanna Gokhale, CTO at ACT Fibernet told Inc42 that they have been witnessing an increase in demand and usage across all the cities they are currently present in. “With our 100% fibre to home connectivity our consumers get the full plan speeds they have subscribed for both uploads and downloads enabling a smooth work from home experience,” he added.
Bengaluru-based ACT Fibernet recently announced its 1.5 Mn customers a unique work-from-home upgrade at no extra cost to 300 Mbps upgraded speeds and unlimited data till March 31, 2020, which can be enabled with a single click on the ACT Fibernet app.
Almost all the ISPs in India are trying their level best to offer consumers and businesses seamless internet access amid challenges. The degree of their network efficiency is something that should be marvelled at.
Should The Internet Be Free?
Amid the chaos unleashed by Covid-19, free internet could bring about positive change in society and could boost business. Taking the lead, a public sector company, BSNL recently announced its program to promote work from the home initiative.
Vivek Banzal, Director of the consumer fixed-line business at BSNL said that its broadband services are being offered free of charge for a month to all citizens across the country, who have landline connection and also to those who do not have any broadband. He further said that the consumers can use the service to either to work, learn, and buy groceries and other essentials from home. Most importantly, we are trying to minimize the need for people to move outdoors for availing essential needs, he added.
Bharat Fiber and Bharat Airfiber broadband services of BSNL are now being rolled out across the country where it claims to offer OTT content bundled with the broadband service.
Banzal said that the customers can avail this service by calling their toll free number and requesting their consent. For businesses, the company said that they can also avail BSNL VPN services for secure data network service for their employees working from their homes.
“Free internet service is the need of the hour in current situation where social distancing is very important to contain the spread of Covid-19,” said Banzal.
Internet service providers have proven to be an influential force these days by supporting consumers and businesses amid all the hurdles and struggles.
“If I have not stepped out of my house for the last 10 days, it is only because of the internet. I am fully connected, efficient and engaged with my team, analysts and investors among others. This wouldn’t have been possible without the telcos and internet service providers,” concluded STL’s Agarwal.