With those who are able to now working from home, networks have had to react quickly to meet increased demand. Our guest explains what’s being done.
This is a guest post by Kevin Hasley of RootMetrics. All views expressed are his own, and not necessarily shared by Which?.
Mobile usage has increased to support all of this unprecedented working from home, but that extra mobile traffic is now taking place in locations that operators haven’t historically provisioned for.
Networks typically never see this type of usage pattern and have smartly planned for city centres and business districts to handle high traffic and demand during the 9-5 core business hours.
After all, under normal circumstances, that’s where most of the mobile traffic would be during the day. Those same provisions weren’t necessarily made across suburban and residential areas, but that’s where the added mobile traffic now is.
Anecdotal stories suggest some users are having trouble making calls, sending messages and connecting to the internet in locations where they’d expect to do so. Let’s look into this.
Voice vs data calls
Call usage has increased in the last couple of weeks as we keep in touch with families, friends and colleagues, and this is putting previously unseen stresses on call networks.
Making traditional calls could be more difficult as each cell tower can only handle a finite number of requests at one time. Our research suggests more indoor voice calls may lead to more blocks than typically seen.
It takes time for operators to gain more spectrum or build more towers so don’t expect short term change now. But there’s good news to keep in mind too – call service is prioritised by the networks.
This does only relate to traditional Voice over LTE (VOLTE) calls, so bear this in mind if you’re using apps such as Teams or Whatsapp, as they classify as a data service which won’t receive the same prioritisation.
Data is needed more than ever
As you can imagine, time on Netflix, video games and other forms of entertainment (and work of course) has skyrocketed.
It’s no surprise that more people are using mobile data to access these digital services as well as their work programmes.
One move to be applauded is the move from many broadband and even mobile operators removing data limits during the crisis. This has enabled more of us to access more data on our current contracts and is a welcomed initiative.
The great indoors
Working and staying at home are making indoor performance even more critical to users. The UK has a few unique factors to keep in mind with indoor mobile usage.
For one thing, the UK typically uses denser construction materials in home building than in, say, the US. It’s harder for a cell signal to get through this type of material than just wood framing.
Second, our mobile networks have less bandwidth at lower spectrum levels, which is the spectrum that is most crucial for getting through thick walls.
So, if you’re trying to take a call at home and having difficulty, you may find yourself better off sitting near a window, which is easier for the signal to penetrate through.
WiFi calling is also an option if you’re still struggling to get a signal. But keep in mind that it can be at the mercy of broadband traffic, which is also being stressed at the moment.
A post-lockdown future
Whether we will be working and staying at home for weeks, months or longer, we’ll have to wait to see.
But remember that advances in 5G rollout and 4G network upgrades over the last couple of years have helped put us in a better position to be able to stay at home, work from home and help save lives. Signals aren’t yet perfect for everyone, but progress has been made.
Those 5G networks are often first launched in those now empty business districts, but as 5G expands we’ll be in an even better position.
How have you found your mobile connectivity performance over the last couple of weeks? Let us know in the comments below.
This was a guest post by Kevin Hasley of RootMetrics. All views expressed were his own, and not necessarily shared by Which?.