How the coronavirus outbreak may be causing your internet to get slower

With over half of the world on lockdown, many people have been forced to work and school from home because of the outbreak of coronavirus. This in effect is putting extra strain on internet providers, and some experts are concerned that they can’t cope.

Vodafone in the last few weeks has reported a 30 percent rise in internet traffic across its home Wi-Fi and mobile networks.

In late January, as China locked down some provinces to contain the spread of the coronavirus, average internet speeds in the country slowed as people who were stuck inside, went online more and clogged the networks. In Hubei Province, mobile broadband speeds fell by more than half.

In mid-February, when the virus hit Italy, Germany and Spain, internet speeds in those countries also began to deteriorate.

And as a wave of stay-at-home orders rolled out across the United States 2 weeks ago, the average time it took to download videos, emails and documents increased as broadband speeds declined 4.9 percent from the previous week.

Playing games, learning, video streaming and video conferencing over the internet.

Quarantines around the world have made people more reliant on the internet to communicate, work, learn and stay entertained. But as the use of YouTube, Netflix, Zoom videoconferencing, Facebook calls and videogaming has surged to new highs, the stress on internet infrastructure is starting to show in many areas.

“This is totally unprecedented,” said Thierry Breton, a European Union commissioner, as he urged streaming sites like Netflix to show content in lower resolution to relieve the pressure on internet providers. These streaming companies such as Netflix and YouTube have been pushed to reduce the size of their video files so they don’t take up as much bandwidth.

Internet service providers like Comcast, Vodafone, Verizon and Telefónica have been building out their networks for years to withstand and account for increasing demand. But company officials said they had never seen such a steep, sudden growth. Growth that the industry had expected to take a year is happening over days, said Enrique Blanco, the chief technology officer at Telefónica, a Spanish telecommunications company.

“In just two days we grew all the traffic we had planned for 2020,” Mr. Blanco said.

With the daily increase in these various forms of activities on the internet by parents and children and workers and students, it is only logical to assume that this problem of internet connectivity and speed may deteriorate, at least until this pandemic comes to an end.

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Semih Durmuş