Coronavirus: Netflix Urged To Stream Low Definition To Ease Network Strain

European Union Commissioner has urged Netflix and other streaming platforms to stop delivering content in high definition

The European Union has reportedly asked streaming platforms such as Netflix and others to consider lowering the quality of their online content.

The idea to stop streaming in high definition comes in an effort to ease overloading online networks, as more and more people self-isolate during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Yesterday Vodafone admitted that there has been a surge in data traffic on its networks around the world, with some markets showing a 50 percent rise in traffic.


Bandwidth strain

Vodafone also warned that it expects data use to continue to increase, as more and more people self-isolate or work from home.

The concern is the growing strain on Internet bandwidth with some many countries now enforcing nationwide lockdowns.

“Important phone conversation with @ReedHastings, CEO of @Netflix” tweeted European Commissioner Thierry Breton on Wednesday. “To beat #COVID19, we #StayAtHome.”

“Teleworking & streaming help a lot but infrastructures might be in strain,” he added. “To secure Internet access for all, let’s #SwitchToStandard definition when HD is not necessary.”

Meanwhile a Netflix spokesperson told CNN Business that Hastings and Breton will speak again on Thursday.

“Commissioner Breton is right to highlight the importance of ensuring that the internet continues to run smoothly during this critical time,” the Netflix spokesperson reportedly said. “We’ve been focused on network efficiency for many years, including providing our open connect service for free to telecommunications companies.”

Netflix said it already adjusts the quality of streams to available network capacity, and uses a special delivery network that keeps its library closer to users as a way of consuming less bandwidth.

Meanwhile CNN reported that Facebook on Wednesday acknowledged that the effects of the pandemic are also stretching it to the limit.

In a call with reporters, CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly said Facebook’s services are facing “big surges” in usage as the coronavirus forces millions around the world to stay home.

He described the increase in demand as “well beyond” the main annual spike usually seen on New Year’s Eve. Voice and video calls on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, in particular, are more than double usual levels.

Network demand

These warnings mirrors similar advice from tech experts, such as Mike Osborne, non-executive chairman at business continuity firm Databarracks, who warned that home working plus school closures will put unprecedented demand on networks.

“When the schools close, we will have a new mix of massive home working combined with the country’s population of schoolchildren gaming and streaming content at the same time,” said Osborne. “This is going to put unprecedented demand on broadband and mobile networks. There have already been question marks raised about how providers will cope – only this week (Tuesday 17th March) we saw customers from EE, O2, Vodafone and Three all reporting issues.

“Nearly all personal and home communication networks work on a contended basis and we all share the available capacity,” said Osborne. “Think of it like motorway traffic during rush hour – lots of people all going in the same direction at the same time creates bottlenecks. That is what is what is going to happen if much of the population work from their home internet and mobile networks, combined with a high use of gaming and streaming services. Speed and quality of service will become compromised.”

“The challenge is that now we are really relying on these networks,” he said. “Organisations are already in trying circumstances doing their best to maintain operations with staff working from home. All the work that has been done securing access, providing devices and collaboration apps is immaterial if staff can’t connect.”

“The key will be to remain flexible and look for alternatives wherever possible to reduce the strain,” said Osborne. “An example we’re hearing is organisations advising staff to use landlines (so long as it’s safe to do so without exposing your number externally) and covering those costs.”

“Ultimately, the problem many businesses will face is that while some employees do regularly work from home, the vast majority are office-based and therefore don’t,” he said. “It’s going to be a testing time, but now we need to think about continuity from the point of view of home working.”

“Our offices have diverse comms to make sure we can keep operating if there is an issue with one connection or provider,” Osborne said. “We can apply those principals to home working too. We don’t have the central control that we would have in an office, so organisations need to work with staff to outline the options available to them and empower them to make those decisions.”

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