Some Brits reckon broadband got worse after lockdown – but that’s just what happens when you’re online 12 hours straight

A chunk of the UK’s broadband users claim their connections worsened in the days following lockdown, according to a YouGov survey of 2,301 adults.

This contradicts an earlier study from Ofcom in partnership with SamKnows, which found an almost negligible decline in performance.

The YouGov poll shows that 28 per cent of respondents felt their internet connection was “slightly worse” than usual after 23 March when the country was ordered to stay indoors, while 7 per cent said it was “much worse.” The majority – 57 per cent – reported seeing no difference, and 6 per cent said their connection was “slightly” or “much” better than usual.

Over half of those who experienced difficulties said they’d faced challenges doing work tasks, with 59 per cent reporting issues with video and mobile calls.

Punters were more likely to report issues with tasks unrelated to work, with 69 per cent facing woes with general browsing and online shopping, and a similar number (67 per cent) reporting troubles streaming from the likes of Netflix and Spotify.

The report doesn’t delve into specifics about how users were disrupted, nor does it make any distinction between ISPs or online service providers, who were collectively slammed by an almost unprecedented flood of traffic from newly furloughed workers.

BBC iPlayer, for example, saw traffic rise 61 per cent in the week following lockdown, compared to the same period last year. Amazon was forced to delay or limit certain orders as customers attempted to avoid the mayhem of local supermarkets.

In order to limit the burden on national broadband networks (not to mention their own servers), many streaming services deliberately throttled picture quality.

Actions taken by Netflix, for example, saw the streaming giant reduce its European network traffic by 25 per cent. YouTube switched all videos streamed within the EU to standard definition by default. These changes combined could persuade some to think they’re experiencing a degraded internet connection.

Another explanation offered by Dan Howdle, analyst at cable.co.uk, suggested that people are perceiving more faults than usual because they’re using their home broadband more than they would under normal conditions.

“With many of us spending a great deal more time online, it’s easy to see why we might encounter more problems than at other times,” he said.

“YouGov’s report, while an excellent measure of public opinion, has no way to factor an increase in issues due to increased exposure to online activity. You’re more likely to encounter a problem after 10 hours on the internet than after one hour on the internet, and this would be the case lockdown or not.”

The Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA UK) was similarly dismissive, arguing that connection quality is influenced by several factors.

“The performance of the network itself has a vital but not exclusive impact on the user experience – in-home devices, the number of users, corporate IT set-ups and capacity constraints within online services (e.g. video-apps) can play an equally significant role,” said Till Sommer, Head of Policy at IPSA. ®

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