Global internet usage during COVID-19

We’re currently embarking on the world’s largest working-from-home experiment. Countries worldwide have severely restricted the movement of citizens and tightened their borders. Entire workspaces are turning virtual overnight to help delay the spread of COVID-19.

Companies are issuing new directives as governments increase their containment measures, with working from home already mandatory for many people. A sudden and dramatic change in lifestyle can feel unsettling, and for a short but vital time, our interaction with the world could shrink to the size of a screen.

The effects of this pandemic have changed the way we use the internet and internet service providers (ISPs) are under enormous pressure to ensure their networks can sustain a significant spike in demand. ISPs and telecom regulators are working together to ensure people can maintain productivity, and access educational and entertainment resources, the news, video conferencing applications, online food deliveries, and other all-important services. 

Vodafone has reported a 50% increase in internet usage in some European countries, and UK peak usage periods is starting much earlier in the day than usual. Netflix, Disney+, Youtube, and Amazon Prime, have all lowered their streaming rates to reduce congestion on the internet. Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services said: “Streaming platforms, telecom operators and users, we all have a joint responsibility to take steps to ensure the smooth functioning of the internet during the battle against the virus propagation.” 

But will ISPs be able to deliver amid the enormous increase in home broadband? Jon Sallet, a senior fellow at the Benton Foundation, and a former counsel at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said, “To be honest, I think we just don't know the answer.” And FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel wrote in a tweet on 20 March: “The FCC needs to report daily on the state of communications networks in this country. It does these reports in other crises, like hurricanes and power outages. It needs to do this here. Now. Because these are the networks we are all counting on for some semblance of modern life.”

Network congestion

In these fast-moving and difficult times, SamKnows is well placed to support governments and ISPs to keep their critical communication services online. We’re already collecting nationwide performance data around the world, and we’re watching this situation evolve and analysing the considerable amount of data we have. So far, we’ve been focusing all our efforts on helping governments and ISPs understand how well their networks are performing in the midst of COVID-19, and to support the delivery of reliable home broadband to everyone. We’ve been quiet on social media and our blog while we quickly adapt to doing what we can to help during this crisis, such as measuring the performance of Critical Services/Applications, and we will share our analysis very soon.