Surge in Canadian mobile and data use leads to complaints about service

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Pressure on the country’s largest wireless and internet providers continues to grow as millions of Canadians shift their schedules, routines and workflow amid the coronavirus outbreak.

There have been numerous reports of customers experiencing network issues, including dropped and incomplete calls, as well as slow internet speeds.

Platforms that require high-bandwidth such as video conferencing applications and online streaming services, coupled with the volume of calls, has forced companies to adjust quickly.


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According to Telus, overall voice traffic has increased by 45 per cent across the country, while data consumption is up 40 per cent.

Surges are coinciding with major events such as provincial and federal news conferences.

When it comes to text messages, general traffic is up 30 per cent, while texts sent with videos and pictures have seen a 50 per cent jump as Canadians share their socially-distant experiences with loved ones.

Nathan Gibson, a spokesperson for Canada’s biggest telecommunications company Bell, told Global News, “With the current COVID-19 situation, landline voice is in good shape but customers may encounter brief congestion when we have daytime surges in usage. We’ll see continued improvement as we add capacity.”

Gibson said the company is working with other mobile providers to increase inter-carrier capacity for their wireless network.


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Zac Carreiro with Rogers Communications said, “These are unprecedented times and as people are doing their part to stay home, we are seeing an increase in voice calls during the day.”

Other services, like 1-800 numbers have experienced a surge as well, which is largely because government agencies are utilizing toll free to support Canadians.

Many businesses are also utilizing toll-free teleconference lines to operate remotely.

Jacinthe Beaulieu with Telus said, “Where some users may receive a busy signal or have to try dialing more than once is specifically when they are using a toll-free number (e.g. a 1-800 number); this is not a network capacity issue, but rather is due to the unprecedented volume being placed upon the organizations receiving the calls during mass calling events.”

Sascha Segan, lead analyst for mobile at PCMag.com, has been closely watching the situation.

“The problems I’m seeing are in voice calling and text messaging, which rely on special servers,” Segan said.

“Those servers, and especially the interconnections between wireless carriers, have gone down at high-traffic times in the past and really seem to be struggling now. Calls could drop and texts could be delayed.”

Segan said considering the circumstances, home internet networks seem to be holding up fairly well.


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“They’re definitely under strain, but they’re designed for that 8 p.m. hour when everyone is watching Netflix and gaming; that hour just extends through the whole day now. We’ve seen average internet speeds in Canada dip a bit, but I don’t think they’re going to get much worse,” Segan said.

The analyst adds popular services are also taking a hit “not because of the size of the pipes, but because of the capacity of the servers.”

“If your home internet seems slow, try running a speed test through Speedtest.net. The problem may not be your connection, but the overburdened server at the other end. Those are easier to scale, though, and I imagine that Zoom is increasing its server capacity by leaps and bounds now that everyone’s relying on it,” Segan said.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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