By now we’ve all heard the term “flatten the curve.” The term describes the need to reduce rapid infection of the coronavirus, which would result in a large spike in infections overwhelming the healthcare sector. If we can flatten that spike, or curve, in infection rates and instead spread out the infections over a longer time period, that keeps the stress on our healthcare systems manageable and allows them to keep operating.
But now everyone needs to do their part to flatten another curve related to the coronavirus. This curve is known as the “connectivity curve” and relates to the growing spike in internet usage as more and more people stay home. And millions of more people are staying home every day, whether the reason is self-isolation, or on lockdown orders, or looking after kids whose schools have shut, or just choosing to work from home.
As the Financial Times reports, the result of all these people being confined to their homes has led to a spike in internet usage, which is risking overwhelming broadband and mobile network operators. If that spike continues, people could find themselves cut off from internet access at peak times—and thus be unable to access critical information if they need to do so.
Matter of fact, the issue is becoming such a problem that the European Union has called on streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube to offer their content in standard definition only instead of high definition. As European commissioner Thierry Breton said on Wednesday, mobile network operators and streaming services have a “joint responsibility to take steps to ensure the smooth functioning of the internet.”
The EU isn’t the only one with worries that the rate of which people are consuming content while stuck at home could lead to crashes in connectivity. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters yesterday that, “We need to make sure we are on top of this from an infrastructure perspective” when revealing the call volume on WhatsApp and Messenger doubled in recent days. Zuckerberg called the “surges” in usage “a challenge.”
But it’s not just users of social media companies and streaming video services that are hogging the bandwidth. People working from home are engaging in a surge of high-definition video conferencing, which is also contributing to what could become unsustainable usage. And that’s not to mention the surge in online games like Fortnite that millions of housebound teenagers are playing to pass the time being stuck at home.
The good news is right now, broadband and mobile networks are coping. However, as more people become stuck at home as the crisis drags on, that could change. Instead of waiting until that happens, it’s better to work on flattening the connectivity curve now.
Ways you can flatten the connectivity curve include making calls on your home phone instead of via WhatsApp or other VOIP services, and choosing standard-definition videos instead of HD ones, or at the very least 1080p HD videos instead of 4K ones. Another pro tip: Physical books provide hours of entertainment and don’t rely on any kind of data whatsoever.