Coronavirus: Coping with lockdown on poor broadband
Families across the country are finding their broadband connections pushed to the limit as families en masse try to work, educate and have fun online.
During a recent video conference, MEP Julie Elliott appealed to the secretary for culture for a faster launch of fiber broadband for her Sunderland voters. As he did so, his broadband connection failed, something that the chairman of the DCMS committee described as “ironic”.
In theory, 95% of premises should be able to access superfast broadband, but the adoption of services remains low. This could be due to the fact that people find that their current speed is sufficient for their needs, they don’t want to pay or they just haven’t had time to update.
For those who wish to update now, there may be a wait. BT said the BBC is prioritizing new broadband connections for the “vulnerable and the most needy”.
According to Ofcom, 189,000 properties have download speeds of 10 Mbps (megabits per second) and upload speeds of 1 Mbps or less, both for fixed and wireless devices.
Uswitch.com broadband expert Adelana Carty thinks she is too short for the block. “Some video call services claim that they only require 1.2 Mbps broadband speeds, but at this level, image quality is likely to be extremely erratic and audio may be muted, especially if there are many people on call. .
“TV streaming services like Netflix say you need a 3 Mbps connection for standard quality and 5 Mbps for HD, but the image is likely to be constantly buffering at these speeds.
“Connection problems also arise when multiple devices use the Internet at the same time, so if necessary, setting up a rotation can be worthwhile, especially when it comes to streaming or online games.
Such a rotation may be the only option for Sam Kirkpatrick, who lives in the rural areas of Northern Ireland and who says that the idea of sharing the Internet with his wife and two teenagers is “simply out of the question”.
“On a good day, my broadband works at around 2 Mbps (not a typo – I really mean two). I have seen various fiber implementation plans over the years and my zip code has been included but not we have still been updated.
“We have paid for an additional 4G service for a couple of years, which is much faster when it works, but much less reliable and more prone to falling content / packets than the landline. Its quality has definitely deteriorated significantly since the block started . “
Without it, the family “would be in trouble,” he said, but it means expensive monthly bills.
Kirkpatrick is a software engineering manager and now works full-time from home.
“Much of my role is video calling and in that moment I struggle a bit. Often I will have to disable videos and rely on audio only to save bandwidth. Or even forget calls and try using messaging instead, which it’s just not the same. Downloading big payloads, which I have to do often, is a challenge. “
Others in the house have to rely on 4G.
“This keeps us going for my wife’s schoolwork and work. Again, we’re limited to maybe one person streaming at a time.
“It’s normal in our home to hear the screams: ‘Can everyone stop using the Internet for a while, please?’ So someone can download something or watch a video. Sometimes, you just have to give up and try again later or forget about it . “
“Losing the craic”
The BBC was also contacted by a woman who lived in a similar part of the world. He wanted to remain anonymous, but stressed that it wasn’t just work and school that was affected by poor connectivity.
“Internet accessibility is difficult in rural areas of Northern Ireland at best, but as a whole with increased use and dependence on the Internet, connecting with family and friends is difficult and sometimes we have to lose the chaos because l infrastructure is not there, “he said.
“It is a further and useless effort for mental health and well-being when we are asked to distance ourselves for the greater good.”
And it’s not just rural areas that suffer. Even in a city like London, people can have problems.
Tips for improving speed
- where possible do not use the wi-fi connection – connect the devices with an Ethernet cable
- configure the router to use different names for the two frequencies, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, then re-teach the devices the credentials for 5 GHz
- check the location of the router – if it is buried in a library surrounded by books the clutter may block the signal
- microwave ovens interfere with the Wi-Fi signal, so don’t cook a microwave lunch during a Zoom call
- if everyone is trying to access the Internet, consider investing in a Wi-Fi booster that allows the signal to travel further
- Mesh network add-ons can improve coverage but usually have a monthly subscription
- don’t move your office to a quiet area of the house without first checking your speeds, using an online speed control
- if the speed is generally significantly lower than the speed you have been promised, call your provider to discuss the case of an update
- download movies to phones and tablets, ideally just before bedtime when not everyone uses the internet
Jack Maddox recently moved to an apartment in Shoreditch technology center in east London, but says the best connection he could install was 15 Mbps, offered by Sky.
“It’s regularly in the range of 7 to 10. I couldn’t believe the lack of fiber options after moving to this relatively new apartment,” he told the BBC.
“It makes you try to make video calls with customers or even make your family and friends angry. I often end up going to the window and tying up the phone, which is not great.”
For some, however, Internet speed is not a problem at all. Jersey already offers full fiber to all homes and now its Internet service providers have decided to upgrade all to 1 Gbps (gigabits per second), completely free “for the duration of the pandemic”.