The UK broadband networks and the national academic network have been experiencing a significant increase in traffic, in light of Government announcements around the Coronavirus pandemic and the changes to daily living and working arrangements gripping the nation and beyond.
“Why are there UK (well, in fact, world wide) network issues? Let’s start with an easy to understand analogy – our public highways are built to support a reasonable amount of traffic at any given time. As a society we know when they are busy, we adjust our travel times and journey times accordingly. We may all recall leaving for a trip to the beach very early during a public holiday to compensate for demand.
Everything out of kilter
“The same applies at peak times, during the week – we have overhead gantries to limit our speed and improve flow. As well as being aware of the yellow cameras, designed to persuade us that going too fast is ill advised.
“Computer networks – which includes the internet and our nice shiny mobile broadband phones, all work in the same way. The experts who designed the networks anticipate our behaviours and internet habits – providers know when the peaks occur and attempt to ensure that we all have that online streaming sensation that everyone desires.
However, suddenly everything is out of kilter, nothing is normal. As train networks are struggling with changes in travel patterns – so are our internet network providers.
Some systems act like bottlenecks – the same experience we endure when the highway suddenly goes from three to two lanes. The internet isn’t an even speed, nor is mobile broadband. Some parts are incredibly fast, other parts are no better than being caught behind the slow moving tractor.
“Many organisations, like The Open University, have over 20 years’ experience predicting demand. However, let’s be fair – nobody anticipated the global impact of Covid19 on supermarkets, humanity, financial markets and, of course, our networks. Which means that there will be delays, as servers are being put under unplanned pressure from colleagues working from home.
Downgrading quality to mitigate demand
“Service providers are working at double speed to make adjustments. Streaming providers like Netflix have already agreed to downgrade the quality of their service to help mitigate demand. Which is like the signs now showing 60 MPH on the overhead gantry.
“We will all experience lag, delay and possibly that old fashioned slow download and a bit of buffering. All of us are now on the internet at unplanned time: studying courses, working from home, staying in touch with loved ones and maybe watching too many cat videos. When you are doing this – if this works, do appreciate that for once the network providers are also doing a sterling job.”