Canada’s biggest wireless carriers say they are working on a fix to address complaints about dropped or incomplete cellphone calls as large swaths of the population change their behaviour in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Canadians are making more cellphone calls than usual as they work remotely, contact government agencies and check in on family members and friends as they attempt to follow social distancing protocols. Many took to Twitter in recent days to complain about not being able to place a wireless call, receiving “all circuits busy" messages, or an increase in dropped calls.
Telecom providers say networks in general – both home internet and wireless – are performing well despite significantly increased demand. BCE Inc. said home internet usage is up 60 per cent during the day and 20 per cent in the evenings, for example. Rogers Communications Inc., Telus Corp. and BCE said Thursday that the source of the cellphone call problem is the capacity of connections between carriers themselves, an issue they say all providers are working to address together.
“If there are a lot more voice calls being made than previously, servers that route calls that go between carriers may be having problems,” said Sascha Segan, lead mobile analyst at PCMag.
Wireless users in the United Kingdom experienced similar issues with dropped and incomplete calls earlier this week, said David Belson, senior director of internet research and analysis at the Internet Society, an American non-profit organization. He said that was also an “interconnect issue” between carriers.
“Given the unprecedented volume of mass-calling events and new 1-800 numbers being set up through government agencies to help Canadians through the crisis, we are working with all operators to address the increased congestion between networks and increase the capacity of the interconnection facilities,” Telus spokesman Richard Gilhooley said in a statement on Thursday.
Rogers said it has also seen an increase in wireless voice traffic owing to the number of people working from home. “We know how important it is for our customers to stay connected ... [and] we are working with other carriers to minimize any intermittent issues,” spokeswoman Sarah Schmidt said.
BCE spokesman Marc Choma shared a similar message: “We’re upgrading network capacity on an ongoing basis to manage increased volumes.”
Shaw Communications Inc., which owns regional wireless carrier Freedom Mobile, did not address cellphone connection problems directly, but did say that voice traffic on Freedom’s network has increased.
On what Canadians can expect regarding network traffic in general, Mr. Segan said internet performance analytics company Ookla conducted speed tests in China and Italy, where the coronavirus outbreak hit earlier, and they showed that speeds did slow down, “but networks didn’t grind to a halt.”
The enterprise-grade internet service most office workers use at work is usually faster and more reliable than home connections, which can be a factor in people thinking their home broadband service is faltering, he said. And increased demand by all household members can eat up bandwidth. “Pay attention to what the other people in your house are doing. A couple of games of Fortnite [a popular online game] can kill your video call.”
“The internet is not really at risk of breaking,” said Mr. Belson, adding, “Those of us who are lucky enough to be on high-speed broadband connections haven’t seen any meaningful complaints. The bigger issue will be users stuck with older, slower internet connectivity, or those in areas where it’s just not affordable. That’s the digital divide right there”
In response to affordability concerns, many Canadian telecom providers have begun waiving data overage fees on home internet accounts without unlimited usage, offering flexible payment options and pledging not to cut customers off if they are temporarily unable to pay their bills.
In rural areas, which are served mainly by satellite or wireless internet service, monthly data caps are often low due to bandwidth constraints. Xplornet Communications Inc., Canada’s biggest rural internet provider, said Thursday it has also waived overage charges on internet service.
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