ITU creates best practice sharing tool as worldwide networks hold strong

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), has created a new mechanism to educate authorities on how to improve network resilience and maintain performance during this difficult period.

The new platform will aim to share best practices and initiatives to improve the performance of networks as traffic increases due to increased number of home workers and children staying home from work. This is an opportunity for authorities to learn from what is being done elsewhere from emergency spectrum reassignments to guidelines for consumers on responsible use.

“The platform ITU is launching today aims to assist national policy makers, regulators and industry stakeholders to ensure that networks are kept resilient and telecommunication services are available to all to the maximum extent possible by sharing best practices and initiatives put in place during the COVID-19 crisis,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.

“It will collect relevant and trustworthy information and expertise on actions that telecommunication policy makers, regulators and others in the regulatory community can use to ensure that their telecommunication networks and services serve the needs of their country.”

Prior to this announcement, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) set up a very similar mechanism for members of the European Union. This announcement coincided with calls for Netflix to downgrade performance from High-definition (HD) to Standard-definition (SD) to ease congestion on the networks as more consumers search for entertainment during the lockdown.

Since the request to the streaming giants, the majority have suggested they would introduce measures to ensure their services do not add to congestion too severely, while Facebook has also said it would follow suit with its own social networking platforms.

Although this seems to be a precautionary measure from the ITU, it does appear networks around the world are managing the increased internet traffic during off-peak hours effectively.

In Italy, Telecom Italia CEO Luigi Gubitosi suggested traffic had increased by 70% in the Lombardy region, partly thanks to increased usage of online games such as Fortnite and Call of Duty, though there have been few reports that network performance has suffered.

The South Korean ICT Ministry released a report to suggest internet traffic had increased 13% over the course of March, though the networks are standing up to the strain, while in Hungary, the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH) released a similar statement claiming confidence.

Over in the US, the FCC granted requests from AT&T and Verizon for Special Temporary Authority to use additional spectrum, though Chairman Ajit Pai is confident in the resilience of the networks:

“We have been encouraged by the feedback we have received so far both regarding the ability of their networks to handle changes in usage patterns caused by the coronavirus outbreak and how networks are performing so far,” Pai said in a statement.

UK telco BT went as far as releasing facts and figures to alleviate concerns. The network has seen a surge in traffic of 35-60%, peaking at 7.5 Tbps, though this is still well below the historical peak of 17.5 Tbps driven by videogame updates and streaming football. Virgin Media has also said traffic is up 50% over its broadband network, though it is still comfortably below what it would expect in peak hours.

These two statements are very important for UK confidence as combined BT’s Openreach and Virgin Media’s network are responsible for at least 93% (Omdia World Information Series, accurate to 2019-end) of the broadband connections across the market.

The initiative from the ITU is certainly one which should be welcomed by the industry, more information is better in these unprecedented times, but what should always be worth bearing in mind is that the networks are standing up to the pressure.