Canada’s telecom and internet providers are preparing for a potential surge in data consumption as more people stay home amid a nationwide push to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
With a growing number of companies encouraging employees to work from home and various provinces closing all publicly funded schools for two weeks after March break, the amount of data being consumed on residential networks during the daytime will climb to levels seen during peak evening-time usage.
Canadian internet providers say their networks are well-equipped to handle the surge, but some are taking precautions to ensure that wireless, internet and emergency services such as 911 continue to run smoothly.
“We are monitoring our network and are ready to increase capacity quickly if we see greater consumer demand or usage patterns change significantly,” Rogers Communications Inc. spokesperson Sarah Schmidt said in an e-mail.
Rogers is also increasing the bandwidth to its public-sector clients such as hospitals, government agencies and first responders as needed.
Shaw Communications Inc. said it’s working closely with its industry partners around the world to see what impact they are seeing on their networks, in a bid to better predict and mitigate any potential issues.
Recent upgrades to its cable network have made it possible for Shaw to add network capacity “virtually overnight” if needed, Chethan Lakshman, vice-president of external affairs, said in a statement.
And Iristel Inc. – which serves large portions of the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut through its affiliate Ice Wireless – has taken steps to ensure it can prioritize certain types of traffic, such as virtual health services, over other, less essential uses such as streaming Netflix, its president and chief executive Samer Bishay said in an e-mail.
For the most part, Canadians should be able to work remotely without issue, experts say, although those living in rural or remote areas that don’t have access to fast and affordable internet connections may face challenges.
“The less bandwidth you have right now, the more you’re going to feel this pinch,” said Sascha Segan, lead mobile analyst for PCMag.
And even in larger urban centres, some customers may see their speeds slow to the levels they typically experience during peak hours, such as in the evenings when people are home from work streaming high-definition video.
“Think about how your internet performs at 8 p.m., when everybody in your neighbourhood is watching Netflix. That’s what it’s going to be like all the time," Mr. Segan said.
Fortunately, most work-from-home applications are not as bandwidth-intensive as streaming high-definition video on sites such as Netflix and YouTube said Matt Stein, CEO of Distributel and chair of the Canadian Network Operators Consortium, an industry group for independent internet service providers.
“Even a video conference uses far less bandwidth than 4K images, so we do expect that the networks will be able to handle it quite well,” said Mr. Stein, whose company was one of several to temporarily suspend data caps on internet plans.
Rogers and Quebecor Inc.'s Videotron also announced Friday they will stop charging overage fees on internet plans to assist people who are working remotely.
Telus, meanwhile, said it’s working to expand the reach of its health-care app Babylon, which allows users to consult with doctors virtually, without having to visit a medical clinic.
“In response to an increase in demand for health-care technology services, we are training additional care practitioners so that we can provide increased support on these channels, which will help prevent the spread of infection,” Telus spokesperson Erin Dermer said in an e-mail.
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