BEREC says COVID-19 won’t break the internet

BEREC has released a statement which suggests the increase in internet usage across the continent is more or less stabilising, though networks did manage to stand up to the strain.

It might seem like a ridiculous idea now, but during the first few days there were worries the dramatic shift in behaviour would place dangerous levels of pressure on the fixed and mobile networks. The latest statement from the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) does not appear to be worried any more:

“30 national regulatory authorities (NRAs) have shared their data on the impact of the crisis on the telecommunications’ networks and the actions taken so far. Since the last week, many NRAs reported a stabilisation in the overall traffic, but some NRAs still observe an increase of the overall traffic.

“According to the available information, some operators have increased their network’s capacity to cope with the sustained traffic growth. Operators, which did not take any such measure, are still closely monitoring their network’s capacity to check if an upgrade is necessary.”

There are still surges in traffic, though on the evidence available thus far, networks are able to stand up to the pressure.

In Italy, Vodafone suggested traffic on its fixed network has increased 50% while Telecom Italia blamed a 70% surge on more people playing Fortnight and Call of Duty. The Italian networks did not perform as well as under normal circumstances, but customers were able to do as they please, from a digital perspective at least.

Although the telcos might not have welcomed the stress which came with the dramatic shift in network usage, it is a useful test.

“There have been many bold predictions made about the future in recent weeks,” said Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri. “My hunch is that things will broadly go back to how they were before this crisis began. But trends and technologies that were already happening will speed up. So more remote working and video conferencing will increase the need for better connectivity.”

Remote working and mobility were two trends which were slowly emerging thanks to better connectivity in the digital economy, but coronavirus might have acted as an accelerator. Some companies will go back to the pre-COVID-19 normality, but others will see the benefits of remote and flexible working, holding onto at least some of the enforced changes.

Networks are holding strong, some even boast of leftover headroom, though events of today might see the evolution of the workforce alter the demands on connectivity.

BEREC sets up European monitoring system as tech giants downgrade downloads

The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) has set up a networking monitoring mechanism as Netflix and YouTube reduce streaming quality.

Although these are precautionary measures for the moment, networks around Europe seem to be standing up to the strain, it is a logical step forward as the COVID-19 outbreak forces more adults and children to stay at home. BEREC will set-up and manage a bloc-wide mechanism which will monitor the evolution of traffic and user experience.

“BEREC is in the process of establishing a special reporting mechanism and we will clarify how this will work in further communication,” said BEREC Chair Dan Sjöblom.

“We expect this work to be ready soon, as we are not looking to build a completely new monitoring structure, but rather strengthening already existing mechanism for information sharing among National Regulatory Authorities.”

With offices and schools closing across the continent, home broadband networks may start to feel the strain simply because this is a greater concentration of traffic. Video conferencing is on the up, Microsoft recently said it had acquired an additional 12 million users for its Teams collaboration software, while children will either be taking advantage of distance learning or entertaining themselves. Netflix or gaming could prove to be popular avenues.

Some welcome news for the industry will be from Silicon Valley where both Netflix and Google’s YouTube have agreed to downgrade speeds for customers. Considering the intensity of these applications on networks, this will aid the telcos maintain experience for customers.

“We are making a commitment to temporarily switch all traffic in the EU to standard definition by default,” YouTube said in a statement.

“Following the discussions between Commissioner Thierry Breton and Reed Hastings – and given the extraordinary challenges raised by the coronavirus – Netflix has decided to begin reducing bit rates across all our streams in Europe for 30 days. We estimate that this will reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25 percent while also ensuring a good quality service for our members,” a Netflix spokesperson said.

The call for assistance, to downgrade downloads from High-definition to Standard-definition, came from EU Commissioner Thierry Breton as a precautionary measure. Generally, HD streaming consumes 4-5X as much data as SD.

Although networks are standing up to the test for the moment, the longer the outbreak forces adults and children to stay at home, the greater the risk of something going wrong. The telcos are dutifully responding to the call to arms today, though there are some aggressive surges in internet traffic across the bloc.

In Italy, Telecom Italia CEO Luigi Gubitosi said internet traffic across the network in effected areas was up 70% partly thanks to gaming applications such as Fortnite and Call of Duty. Vodafone has said traffic has increased 30% in the UK, though a full lockdown is not in force, and it has seen surges of 50% in other European markets.

With UK seemingly on the verge of a full-scale lockdown, Italy has already announced an extension, France and Spain in the early days of their own, Austria’s hotspot region Tyrol under lock and key, while Slovenia will ban socialising in public spaces from today, the real tests of the networks are in the near future. Downgrading video traffic from HD to SD might not sound significant, but every little helps as the telcos admirably scrap to keep the digital economy flowing smoothly.

Europe gives operators minor throttling concession

The powers that be in the European Union have said its operators can do a little bit of traffic management if they absolutely have to.

The reason for this minor concession, of course, is that the entire continent is being encouraged, and increasingly compelled, to stay at home the whole time as we try to slow the spread of the COVIS-19 pandemic. Most of them will probably be spending a lot of time streaming video, online gaming and so on, so exceptional levels of both fixed and mobile broadband are expected.

On the demand side, EU bigwigs have been hassling Netflix not to let its customers stream in HD, and now they’re addressing the supply side. A joint statement from the European Commission and BEREC (Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications) addressed coping with the increased demand for network connectivity due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It flags a regulation that prevents operators from prioritising traffic, but notes that it allows a bit of light throttling if there’s a really good reason. “Pursuant to the regulation, operators are authorised to apply exceptional traffic management measures, inter alia, to prevent impending network congestion and to mitigate the effects of exceptional or temporary network congestion, always under the condition that equivalent categories of traffic are treated equally,” says the statement.

The long and short of it seems to be that European authorities have given a tentative green light to throttling when needed. However this comes with the implicit threat that if it is suspected that the operator in question didn’t have a good enough reason, or failed to do so in an even-handed manner, then there will be trouble.

GSMA has a pop at BEREC over Euro MNO merger study

Mobile industry lobby group GSMA is unconvinced by findings from Euro telecoms regulator BEREC about the effects of consolidation.

A persistent theme in the European mobile market is the desire for consolidation. The European Commission has regularly blocked such attempts, apparently viewing four as the optimal number to ensure healthy competition. The counter-argument put forward by operators is that consolidation creates efficiencies and economies of scale that allow for greater investment, etc.

One of the organisations the EC apparently looks to for guidance on such matters is BEREC (Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications), which recently published a report entitled ‘Post-Merger Market Developments – Price Effects of Mobile Mergers in Austria, Ireland and Germany’.

While there were few concrete conclusions the report seemed inclined against 4 to 3 mergers on competition grounds. “In all of the three cases considered, there is at least some evidence that retail prices for new customers increased due to the merger compared to the situation without the merger (the counterfactual),” it said in its conclusion.

The GSMA isn’t convinced and thinks BEREC failed to provide sufficient evidence to support this claim. Regarding price it picks holes in BEREC’s choice of data from Austria, reckons the Irish data used doesn’t support the claim at all and says most of the German data is ‘not very robust’, which seems like a polite way of saying ‘dodgy’.

BEREC also directly criticised the GSMA’s own study of the effects of the Hutchison/Orange merger in Austria, specifically the methodology and data used and the positive conclusions made about its effect on network quality. The GSMA predictably pushed back on that, saying its findings don’t stand up to [the GSMA’s] scrutiny.

“In summary, the BEREC report does not add any significant finding to the existing body of evidence on the impact of mergers,” concludes the GSMA press release. “It fails to convincingly dismiss past evidence on the positive impact of recent mergers, while not providing a convincing picture of higher prices for consumers in Austria, Ireland and Germany.”

BEREC hasn’t issued any public response but if it did, it would probably be something like “It’s not our methodology that’s rubbish – it’s the GSMA’s. And no returns.”