The ability of ISPs to maintain communications networks is one of the concerns associated with the "new normal" with large millions of people working from home around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no shortage of warnings in Europe, and the group of regulators in the communications market has even authorized companies to take exceptional measures, "turning off the tap" or reducing the priority of some type of traffic, especially video.
The companies themselves have been mobilizing themselves to limit the speed of the videos. Facebook has already done so on both social networks, Facebook and Instagram, and Netflix has also switched to "normal" streams by suspending high-definition streaming. Even Disney +, which now arrives in Europe, has already accepted the same order.
In Portugal, the Government has already approved a decree-law that defines what are the rules for communication operators to control access to communication networks, and that alters the definitions that were until now in force for internet neutrality. In this way, it is intended to ensure that the state's critical services are maintained but that internet access for the entire population is also guaranteed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Operators are now able to limit streaming, online games and even access to automatic recordings of TV shows.
Ookla's connection speed measurement platform, the Speedtest, has been measuring the impact of the pandemic on the speed of fixed and mobile networks and shared the latest data, showing a degradation that is visible in various regions of the globe, and that is accompanied by exponential growth in the number of tests performed.
The data shared yesterday show that, in Europe, in the week of March 16 the average speed on the fixed networks decreased in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden. In Germany alone, the average speed dropped by 10 Mbps, from 103 to 93Mbps, but in Austria and the United Kingdom there were no changes.
Also in the mobile networks, some countries were more affected, such as Austria, France, Spain and Sweden, although in Holland the average speed has even increased.
Portugal is not on this list of monitored countries, but February data show that the country is in the 21st position in terms of average speed on the fixed network, with a record of 107 Mbps download and 49.43 download. In mobile networks, the ranking is not so favorable, with Portugal being in 38th position globally, with download speed of 38.56 Mbps and 11.71 Mbps of upload.
It should be noted that these numbers correspond to an average, and that they are based on user tests, so there may be users who experienced greater degradation in the speed of their networks.
Brazil without major impact in a scenario of lower internet speed at a global level
The analysis of the Speedtest is done by geographic areas, with Asia being the region that has felt the most impact in recent weeks, but where there is already a recovery. In China, the average speed of fixed-line internet access has risen, including the province of Hubei where COVID-19 appeared. In Japan, the speed was maintained in the week of March 16, compared to the previous week.
In South America, there are different realities. The average speed of the fixed network dropped sharply in Chile in the last week, with a rise in latency, and in Ecuador the pandemic impact is also felt. But in Brazil there is no major change, although it is one of the countries in South America with a lower average speed of internet access. In mobile networks, the decrease was less significant, with a slight decrease in Chile and Brazil, while Ecuador even registered an improvement in average speed.
The United States and Canada are also suffering from speed drops. The average of the fixed network dropped from 140 to 133 Mbps in the United States, while in the mobile network it went from 75 to 73 Mbps. In Canada the trend is similar, going from 129 to 121 Mbps on the fixed network.
More people taking Internet speed tests
With more people working from home doing normal tests to speed up the internet, but this is also because they experience a degradation in quality. The "new normal" goes through many workers and students in telework and "tele-school", often in videoconferencing, and more access to content in streaming and on social networks. And this naturally has an impact on the speed at which the contents reach the equipment.
In the last few weeks, the Speedtest platform has experienced an exponential increase in the volume of tests, globally, but also very significant in Europe. This happened on fixed networks but also on mobile networks, in what the platform claims to be the biggest change ever recorded.
Note, however, that tests carried out from a WiFi network are not always the most reliable because they can be limited by the speed of the wireless network itself and not exactly match the capacity of the fiber, cable or ADSL connection.
Editor's note: The news has been updated with more information.