Global ‘internet pressure’ map reveals how rolling lockdowns due to coronavirus are putting stress on broadband infrastructure as people around the world turn to HD streaming and online gaming for entertainment
- Global pressure map shows monthly change in bandwidth strain over a month
- Latency in UK networks increased 4 per cent between mid Feb and mid March
- Experts say a strain is caused by HD streaming and graphic-heavy online games
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
Internet infrastructure is being put under huge pressure globally due to government-imposed lockdowns during the coronavirus crisis, new data shows.
Australian researchers created a ‘global internet pressure’ map that reveals the strain COVID-19 is putting on internet as people are forced to stay at home.
The software behind the map, developed by data company KASPR Datahaus, collects and processes billions of internet activity and quality measurements daily.
KASPR Datahaus says that any bandwidth-intense activity, such as HD video streaming and graphic-intensive online gaming can contribute to congestion.
‘More people at home means more people online – with big bandwidth appetites,’ said Professor Paul Raschky, an economist at Monash University in Melbourne and co-founder of KASPR Datahaus.
Global pressure map shows spikes in pressure on internet infrastructure in Malaysia, Italy, Spain and Sweden
‘This situation is not dissimilar to a family trying to make their way through a crowded subway tunnel.
‘Your streaming video or video upload during teleconferencing is made up of small packets of information – these packets need to find their way down copper and fibre-optic cables across vast distances.
‘The more streaming packets trying to make the journey at once, the more congested the pathway and the slower the arrival time.’
The team examined how each nation’s internet was performing amid the rapid escalation of home-based entertainment, including gaming and streaming films, as well as video-conferencing and other online communication.
They observed changes in internet latency that emerged between March 12-13, around the time several countries including France, Spain and Italy entered government-imposed lockdowns, compared with February 13-14.
‘We call this difference measure, between the first days of the lockdown period and the baseline period in early February, ‘internet pressure’, since if it is greater than zero, it exposes latency, or speed, issues, starting to affect millions of internet users across these regions,’ said Dr Raschky.
‘While the values may seem relatively small, such as three per cent or seven per cent, such a difference is far from normal, and indicates that many users are probably experiencing bandwidth congestion.’
The team focused on countries with at least 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of 13 March, as these are the most likely to have undertaken significant social distancing activities.
The map – which is publicly available and lets users download data for individual countries – reveals pressure on internet networks is being particularly felt in Italy, Spain, Sweden, Iran and Malaysia, while Australia’s is just holding up.
In the UK during this period, there was an increase in internet latency between mid-February and mid-March of around 4 per cent.
‘In most OECD countries that are affected by COVID-19, internet quality is relatively stable, although regions throughout Italy, Spain and somewhat surprisingly Sweden are showing signs of strain,’ said Professor Raschky.
The team also created a graphic that shows internet pressure during workdays over a slightly extended period – February 12-14 to March 18-20.
The image above breaks down the internet pressure changes between Feb 12-14 and March 18-20 measured as a percentage increase
KASPR Datahaus said governments and network providers could limit some online services, making it unlikely that networks would grind to a halt due to traffic spikes.
Eoin Keary, founder and CEO of computer security company Edgescan, said the switch to corporate internet service providers (ISPs) to home ISPs could cause problems.
‘The traffic is routing through different systems and providers, some of which are not designed for bandwidth,’ he told MailOnline.
‘When capacity management is planned, typical usage patterns, peaks and trough times are considered, but the work-from-home and social distancing model has changed this pattern of usage dramatically.’
In the UK, broadband providers including BT and Sky have insisted they can support millions of people working from home during the pandemic, despite experts previously warning that the networks ‘won’t cope’ with the extra traffic.
BT says that across the whole of the UK network currently deals with far higher traffic between the hours of 6pm and 10pm – when it handles about 10 times as much data during a normal working day.
This peak capacity shows that the company’s broadband network is built to withstand a fifth of the country’s workforce working at home, it says.
Netflix on Thursday said that it would be reducing bit rates — which determine the quality and size of its audio and video files — across all its streams in Europe for 30 days. This will, in effect, cut its traffic on European networks by around 25 per cent
‘Leading operators have given assurances that there is sufficient capacity to cope with far higher day-time demand than we are currently seeing,’ said Kester Mann, director of consumer and connectivity at CCS Insight.
‘Indeed, levels of traffic during the day on BT are still well short of the evening peak and there is additional capacity that can be added should volumes shoot up another couple of notches.’
So far, the highest peak BT has seen in evening traffic – about 17.5 terabits per second – was driven by video game updates and streaming football, while daytime usage during working hours is about 5 terabits per second, he said.
Last week, a video game expert and columnist urged video game players to reduce the time they spend playing games online during working hours to reduce the network strain – a suggestion that provoked outraged responses from gamers on social media.
But Mann said that, should traffic exceed anticipated levels, operators may have to prioritise certain types of service, like access to important healthcare or education resources.
Streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and YouTube have agreed to lower the streaming quality of their services in Europe to reduce the risk of network overload, as per the recommendation of EU industry chief Thierry Breton.
But should networks start to strain under growing usage, governments could step in and enforce further measures, Mann said.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS?
What is the coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.
The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.
Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.
The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.
Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals.
‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses).
‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’
The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.
By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.
The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000.
Where does the virus come from?
According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.
The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.
Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat.
A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.
However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.
Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.
‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’
So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it?
Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.
It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.
Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.
Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.
‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’
If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die.
‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.
‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’
How does the virus spread?
The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.
It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. It can also live on surfaces, such as plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours, meaning people can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces.
Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person.
What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?
Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.
If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.
In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.
Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why.
What have genetic tests revealed about the virus?
Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world.
This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.
Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.
However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.
This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.
More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.
How dangerous is the virus?
The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.
Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.
However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.
Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.
Can the virus be cured?
The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.
Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.
No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.
The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.
Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.
People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.
And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).
However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.
Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?
The outbreak was declared a pandemic on March 11. A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.
Previously, the UN agency said most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.
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