For network operators already coming to grips with the effects of more customers “cutting the cord,” the next few months will demonstrate which are truly up to the challenge and which are not. With the world bracing for an extended period of social distancing, companies and educational institutions are turning en masse to teleworking and distance learning. The challenge for operators to provide a consistent service is growing.

On March 15, a consortium of Spanish operators, including Movistar, Orange, Vodafone, Grupo Masmovil, and Grupo Euskaltel, reported that IP network traffic has increased nearly 40%. Mobile voice and data traffic have increased by 50% and 25%, respectively. Skype and Webex traffic has increased fourfold, while messaging traffic (including voice service) on WhatsApp is up fivefold.

Network operators are already seeking to mitigate the potential damage by reaching out proactively to their customers. Among their recommendations:

  • Defer using gaming or video entertainment services – streaming video or gaming – to off-peak hours
  • Use landline phones instead of mobile phones whenever possible
  • Only download documents that are truly necessary, and if possible, do so during off-peak hours
  • Use collaboration tools like Teams or Slack, and if possible, avoid video collaboration
  • Avoid sending group e-mails with large attachments.

Operators’ fiber to the home investment provides resilience

Spain is relatively well-positioned to manage the massive increase in volume underway. This is because it has made significant investment in building out fiber-to-the-home (FTTH). According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Spain, Lithuania, Latvia, and New Zealand have made significant improvements in recent years. They have closed the gap with traditional leaders South Korea, Japan, and the Nordic countries. This is thanks to increased competition and favorable regulatory environments. Conversely, Italy, Germany, Austria, the UK, Israel, Belgium, and Greece have the lowest percentage of fiber connections.

It should also be noted that network operators are already coming to grips with the effects of popular new streaming brands that entered the marketplace in November 2019. Apple TV+ launched service in 100 countries while Disney+ already has more than 30 million subscribers. Meanwhile, Netflix continues its international expansion, and traditional television networks are in a major shift to take their platforms online.

Compounding the tremendous spikes in demand, many operators will be hampered by the pressure to keep employees home to avoid spreading of the COVID-19 virus. This could leave these operators less well-positioned to manage their networks and provide additional capacity to keep pace with demand.

All of the above means it’s going to be an unprecedented moment of truth for operators around the globe. Simply put, some will rise to the challenge, and some will not.

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