There has been a lot of speculation online and in the press that the UK’s networks will struggle to cope with the increase in voice and data traffic, now that vast majority are working and living within their own homes. The UK networks are working together to remain strong enough to cope with this health emergency. The UK’s major networks have adopted a range of strategies for building resilience including by adding more capacity, and changing the way voice and data traffic are managed across their physical network.
The majority of people usually travel to work in urban centres, so networks generally build in the most mobile capacity in these densely populated areas and across major transport links – at train stations, near offices, restaurants and public meeting places. Under normal circumstances, the networks would not need as much capacity during the day near residential areas. But now that the vast majority are spending most of their day at home, this behavioural pattern has totally changed. As a result, many networks are reporting a jump in traffic over fixed and mobile networks – Vodafone have reported an increase of 30% across fixed networks and mobile voice traffic increase by 42%.
While mobile data traffic hasn’t spiked, the changing geographic demand has meant that the networks are working to adapt to this change. However, mobile voice calls are placing very high demands on the system as people use their mobiles to do business, stay in touch with friends and family and stay up to date with the latest news and health advice. This means there has been a lot of pressure on voice switches – the physical components of the network that deal with voice calls. To cope with this O2, EE and Vodafone have announced they are developing their physical infrastructure to cope with this new demand. The flow of voice and data traffic is also being altered and redirected across the physical network to cope with peaks in demand.
Broadband capacity presents another challenge as home broadband usage usually peaks around the evening. However, with many working from home videoconferencing, streaming and having online lessons, the demand is much higher on the system. Many networks are now working to increase capacity in the fixed network; however, it has been stated that this infrastructural change will take time to implement. The most likely place where congestion may occur for broadband customers is at the exchanges, so engineers are being deployed to increase the number of links smaller and larger exchanges can cope with. During this time, a small minority of broadband customers may experience slower internet speeds and some congestion – however this will be resolved soon.
Overall, the network response and work of telecoms engineers is ongoing as the UK networks adapt to constantly changing, and unprecedented circumstances. The networks have made strong reassurances that the technology and the expertise needed to keep the UK connected during these difficult times. EE, Vodafone and O2 have also waived data charges for accessing online public health information about the coronavirus – so additional data charge for any customers. They have also made temporary SIM deals available to personal and business customers to help them adapt to working from home.