Coronavirus: Ofcom Advice For Staying Connected At Home

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‘Stay connected’ campaign tells people to move routers away from other electrical devices and don’t use microwave during video calls

The communications regulator Ofcom has offered up some practical advice for people self-isolating during the Coronavirus pandemic, with its ‘Stay Connected’ campaign.

The advice from both Ofcom and the government centres on practical tips and advice to help people get the broadband speeds and Wi-Fi reception they need, during the national emergency.

It comes as major streaming platforms including Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Facebook and Disney have lowered the quality of their video content to ease bandwidth concerns expressed by some EU officials.

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Stay Connected

The Ofcom advice comes after the Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday 22 March, implemented an unprecedented lock-down in the UK, with people only allowed to leave their house for ‘essential shopping’ such as food and medicine, or to check on the elderly.

All non-essential shops including clothing stores, libraries and electronic shops have been ordered to close.

Ofcom is hoping its advice will help people get the most from their internet connections, as families work and learn at home, and comes “at a time when broadband and mobile have never been more important in helping everyone communicate.”

“Families across the country are going online together this week, often juggling work and keeping children busy at the same time,” said Melanie Dawes, Ofcom chief executive. “So we’re encouraging people to read our advice on getting the most from their broadband, home phones and mobiles – and to share it with friends, families and colleagues, to help them stay connected too.”

“Right now we need people to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives,” added Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden. “Reliable internet speeds will be crucial so we can work from home where possible, stay connected with our families and keep up to date with the latest health information.”

“I urge everyone to read Ofcom’s helpful tips and advice to ensure they get the most out of their broadband and mobile internet connections during these unprecedented times,” said Dowden.

Practical advice

There are seven main tips for people, which are as follows:

  1. Use the home landline or Wi-Fi calls if possible. Ofcom has warned that more people are making calls on their mobile network during the day, and because of this higher usage, people may get find a more reliable connection if they rather use their landline. It says that if people do need to use their mobile phone, alter the settings to turn on ‘wifi calling’. This allows some smartphones and mobile packages to rather route the call via the home’s broadband network, which helps reduce demand on the mobile network. It also advises people to make VoIP calls using apps such as Skype, Facetime or WhatsApp.
  2. Move the broadband router clear of other devices. Ofcom’s advice to move the router as far away as possible from other devices, and those which operate wirelessly. It is well known that cordless phones, baby monitors, halogen lamps, dimmer switches, stereos and computer speakers, TVs and monitors can all impact the Wi-Fi network in the home, if they’re too close to the router. And even things like operating a microwave oven can also reduce Wi-Fi signals. Ofcom says that because of this, don’t use the microwave when making video calls, watching HD videos or doing something important online. Also, place the router on a table or shelf rather than on the floor, and keep it switched on.
  3. Lower the demands on the home connection. Ofcom says the move devices attached to the Wi-Fi network, the lower the speed, as devices not being used will still work in the background. It says people should try switching Wi-FI reception off on these devices when they are not being used. It also says when carrying out video calls or meetings, if the person switches off the video and only use audio, it will eat up less bandwidth. Ofcom also says try doing video calls “at less common times, rather than on the hour or half hour.” Parents can also manage a family’s online activity, so that different people aren’t carrying out data-heavy tasks (such as HD streaming, gaming or video calls) all at the same time. Ofcom says that downloading video in advance, instead of streaming it, can also help.
  4. Go wired rather than wireless. Wired connectivity is mostly always better than wireless, is the message from the regulator. It says people seeking the best broadband speeds, should use an Ethernet cable to connect the computer directly to the router rather than using Wi-Fi.
  5. Plug router directly into the house’s main phone socket. Each house has a ‘master’ telephone socket. From this master socket, extensions are run. Where possible, people are advised not to use a telephone extension lead to plug into their router, as these can cause interference which could lower speed. Ofcom also advises householders to plug ‘microfilters’ into every phone socket in their home.
  6. Test the broadband line speed. People are advised to find out what speed they are actually getting by running a speed speed. For best results run the tests over a few days and at different times of day.
  7. Get advice from broadband provider. And finally if a connection is not working as well as it should, people can find advice on their broadband provider’s website. But beware, ISP helplines may be tied up helping people, and could be running with a reduced workforce.

For the record, it should be noted that BT said last week that there is plenty of capacity in the UK’s networks.

Howard Watson, chief technology and information officer for BT Group, stated that the carrier “has more than enough capacity” in its UK network.

“Even if the same heavy data traffic that we see each evening were to run throughout the daytime, there is still enough capacity for work applications to run simultaneously,” he reportedly said.

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