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Telecom players and efforts to meet demand without network congestion

Telecom players and efforts to meet demand without network congestion

A telecom network, regardless of the switching technology used, is generally not designed to normally carry traffic in crisis situations. Before the advent of packet switching and particularly in the 1980s, Erlang’s mathematical law was used to size a telecom network based on circuit switching. To protect networks from attempted calls, the criterion of “BHCA” was used. This criterion, defines the busy hour call attempts (BHCA), which is the unit designating the capacity of a telecom network to support calls, especially in times of crisis.

This Erlang model has long been adopted for calculating the load of telephone networks, and still remains valid in certain cases for voice-type communications. However, with the advent of packet switching, this model is no longer valid, especially when it comes to data transmission as well.

According to standardization bodies in the field, we manage today the dimensioning of a telecom network by breaking down all the services into four classes: class of conversational services, class of continuous flow or streaming services, class of interactive services, and class of services in download/upload mode. The first two classes are intended for real-time services while the other two classes relate to non-real time applications, characterized by a tolerance to transmission delays. In the case of continuous flow or streaming services, sizing is managed by the so-called “Markov” mathematical process.

For the interactive service class, such as the web page viewing service, sizing is based on the so-called “Poisson” mathematical process. For the class of services in download mode, the traffic of this class is insensitive to the delay, it belongs to the “Best Effort” type. Downloads are normally transmitted outside of busy core network periods, that is, during periods of inactivity of other classes of service. Otherwise, these services do not contribute in increasing the load on the network.

Hence, as soon as an unusual situation happens, we have to take necessary measures to properly manage the telecom networks and avoid their shutdowns, as is the case with the Covid-19 pandemic and particularly in developing countries.

From my personal experience in this field, when I was working in signaling and network dimensioning during the 1980s, networks in developed countries were relatively well sized and were less exposed to traffic overload than those in developing countries. We can consider this differentiation in the quality of dimensioning of the network as another type of invisible digital divide, between the rich countries and those in the process of development,

 The actors called upon to take the necessary measures in order to meet the needs and avoid network congestion

From the start of the lockdowns, all over the world, in early March 2020, the various telecoms and digital players at the global level anticipated the effects on telecom networks by taking a series of actions for this purpose. To do this, politicians, regulators and telecom operators, as well as manufacturers, providers of solutions and equipment have been mobilized to properly manage the traffic of different users and reconcile teleworking and online education activities, on the one hand, with those of communication and entertainment, on the other. Thus, in Europe for example, from the start of containment, European Commissioner Thierry Breton called on telecom players to take measures for the sake of avoiding network congestion. In this sense, he asked the streaming platforms to take quick actions for the aim to ensure proper functioning of the internet during the Covid-19 epidemic. Along those same lines, the video bit rate has been adapted, temporarily offering standard definition, rather than high definition, especially during peak hours.

Meanwhile, internet traffic on mobiles increased by 42% between February and March 2020 in Senegal. For instance, the high demand for bandwidth has pushed operators like Orange Morocco and Orange Senegal to increase, among other things, the capacities rented from various submarine cable holders. The Orange Group, present in 18 countries in Africa, has taken note of this increase in traffic and, consequently, of the instantaneous increase in the new needs of its customers. This group has also seen strong demand on fixed internet, including FTTH. The pandemic has even allowed this group to increase its market segment by 5%. As in Europe, African operators have also conducted negotiations with international digital platforms, which consume more bandwidth, to adjust the quality of their offers. For example, in South Africa, Netflix consumed over 65% of bandwidth in April 2020.

Regulators were also asked by operators for more radio frequencies in order to increase the capacity of radio sites. For illustration purposes, and in the face of the exponential increase in traffic with the Covid-19 epidemic, the American regulator (The FCC), has taken exceptional measures. This organization has thus granted to American telecom operators, temporary and emergency access to a greater number of frequencies, in order to strengthen the bandwidth of operators across the United States. The handling of the frequency spectrum was intended to enrich the bandwidth offered by the operators, during the lockdown period.

Netflix and YouTube have reduced the quality of videos to leave the tape for teleworking and online education:

Due to the lockdown of the population and the increase in the volume of teleworking, international digital platforms have reduced the quality of their videos, where Internet networks are most used since March 2020. Hundreds of millions of people who had been home bound to limit the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, had used the Internet to work remotely, had looked after or had entertained their children who can no longer go to school. It should be noted that Netflix and YouTube alone each account for 12% of data consumption.

WhatsApp limits message transfers

To fight against the spread of false information and to limit congestion in charging time, Facebook has decided from mid-April 2020 until now, the immediate implementation of a new tool to limit the possibilities of sharing. With the pandemic, it is only possible to share a file on WhatsApp, in high load times.

Telecoms in 1918 and in 2020, a century of evolution.

The last time a virus was as devastating as covid19 dates back to 1918, during the so-called “Spanish” flu. Indeed, this flu killed almost 5% of the world population, or 70 million victims and it affected several countries including China and the USA.

It has been called the “Spanish flu” because Spain, not having been involved in the 14-18 war, was the only one able to communicate about this pandemic. In 1918, there were barely 13 million landline telephones in the world, including 9 million in the United States. No television station existed at the time. On the radio side, only the city of Montreal had a radio station which was inaugurated in 1918. While today, in 2020, almost 70% of the world population is equipped with a telephone mobile and over 40% of this population have a smartphone, with access to various Internet services, including social networks and Whatsapp aplication.

Almost 3 billion computers are functional, most of them globally connected to the internet. There are also several radio stations, television channels and video on demand platforms, not to mention the countless number of videos on YouTube in particular!

When we see the role played by the various telecoms and digital networks since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, until today, we can only pay tribute to all the players concerned, namely regulators, telecom operators, scientists, engineers, technicians, managers, lawyers, financiers and various industrialists, for the commendable efforts they have deployed. Great efforts made especially during these difficult times to maintain all remote communication networks and allow users to continue to communicate and virtually maintain various social ties. These efforts will certainly be continued to ensure universal and planetary connectivity which is useful in this period of crisis, despite the various rivalry and differences observed, in particular the ones existing between telecom operators and the Internet giants!

By Ahmed Khaouja

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