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  • Writer's pictureNathan Stone

Coronavirus Impacts on Mobile Networks

With the somewhat sudden onset of Coronavirus or Covid-19, networks as a whole are reeling and struggling to keep up with the increased network traffic. While many industries have been classified as essential, a staggering number of workers have been forced to shelter in place which increases their demand for bandwidth and data as most homes are streaming nearly constantly now.

Olive IP provides our customers, primarily rural, with high speed internet access. Our goal is to allow rural residents to enjoy the same advantages and amenities as urban dwellers. We do this by working strategically with the country's largest wireless service providers to leverage high speed and great coverage basically anywhere in the U.S.

One of the unfortunate side effects of working with these carriers is that we are impacted by their network policies, particularly in crisis events. We are seeing major impacts to quality of service across all carriers right now, and it would be disingenuous to not disclose what these impacts are and how they relate to our current subscriber base.

Below I am compiling a list of all known network issues and policies that are likely to impact your ability to work, stream, and play at home like you have always been able to do.

1. AT&T and Verizon have begun enforcing Fair Use Policies without prior notice.

What this means is they have unpublished usage thresholds which they consider an abuse of their network, and they have always reserved the right to remove users who violate those standards, ambiguous as they may be. For the vast majority of our subscribers this will have little to no impact on you. But the instances where we have seen this enforced the most often have been in medium bursts of high data usage, primarily with large file downloads such as movie downloads (not streaming), console and PC game downloads, or other large file transfers (think CAD or similar design files.) If you are currently using your internet for any of these applications, you may want to modify your usage slightly. Consider manually reducing the download speed for the devices in question. This can be done in your wireless router, and you should contact your router manufacturer for instructions to do so. While we can resolve this issue, it does necessitate a SIM card replacement, so you will have a few days of downtime while we process that. See this article for another explanation of why FUPs are applied to mobile networks.

2. Authorization errors have increased.

We have seen an exponential increase in authorization errors, particularly with our AT&T based customers. What this means is your internet may be working now, but not in 5 minutes. This happens because of an authorization that happens inside of their network. Generally, the tower you connect to will check with AT&T regularly to verify your SIM card has permission to connect to the network. If the tower does not receive that authorization it will cut off the card. We can usually resolve this quickly by reminding the network that your SIM card is allowed on the network. Unfortunately the symptoms of this problem are the same as bring kicked for Fair Use Policy infringement, so it makes it difficult to diagnose. Generally, we will submit a refresh request to the carrier, and if it is not resolved within 24 hours we will process a SIM replacement under the assumption that the SIM card has been disabled. So this will take either 4-8 hours to resolve, or a few days if a replacement has to be facilitated.

3. All carriers are contending with major network congestion.

This means too many people are trying to access the internet from the same serving tower as you simultaneously. Congestion is not something we come across extremely often, but it is frustrating when it does. With that said, we are finding it to be more and more common as people turn to cell data on their phones to spread out their data usage as a whole. This means that folks that are generally at work, school, or social gatherings are now all at home streaming and surfing, and the towers were just not made for that kind of use (come on 5G!) There is realistically nothing anyone can do about this issue. While you may be able to tweak the frequency band you are using if you have a device capable of doing that (see the instructions for the Mofi 4500, and ReadyNet LTE520 modems.)

4. Almost all households are seeing massive data usage.

The average data usage per household prior to the shelter in place ordinances varied between 300-500GB with marking it at 395GB for stream-only households. Over the last three weeks we have seen that data usage increase three fold, with our maximum users clocking in nearly 2 Terabytes (that's 2000GB) of data in a month. While we ask for grace from the carriers despite clear violations of both the carrier, and our terms of service, we dont always win. There were a few folks that were banned from the network as a result.

If you want to get an idea of how much data you actually use, take a look at this data calculator so you can estimate your own usage. We want to make sure that you as a subscriber are not put in that predicament, but that also means that you will be asked to change some of your use habits in the following ways, albeit temporarily.

I. DO NOT STREAM IN 4K! 4K streaming uses roughly 8GB of data PER HOUR. That is a lot of data. I would recommend staying away from it if at all possible.

II. Decrease streaming resolution to 720p or medium manually on all devices. This will reduce your data usage from 1.5-3GB of data per hour to less than 1GB per hour. Not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but you would be surprised how that adds up over a month, particularly with multiple users in the home.

III. Temporarily cease automatic iCloud and cloud storage (i.e. Google Drive, iCloud, Drop Box, etc.)

IV. Turn off your GPS tracking on your phones while you are in-home.

V. Ensure you are not streaming (video or music) to an empty room. This includes making sure you shut off all set top boxes such as Firesticks, Apple TVs, and Rokus, as opposed to just turning off the TV power.

VI. Turn off auto play on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.

VII. Plan your video game downloads. We understand that you may have multiple PCs and/or consoles in your home. When a new game comes out, stagger the download with several days (preferably a week or more) between downloads, so as to spread out the usage.

VII. Turn off cloud upload for security cameras. If you are home all day, consider turning off cloud upload for your Nest or Arlo cameras, and opt for motion notifications instead. This will save you A TON of data usage overall.

VIII. Watch for the highest data usage devices in your home. You may not be using a ton of data, but your spouse or kids might be. Make sure everyone is on the same page, and if possible, monitor your network through your wireless router. Many wireless routers such as Google WiFi, Securify Almond, Eero, and even Netgear allow for usage monitoring across devices. This will help you see who the data hogs in your house are so you can make sure everyone is playing fair.

Once again, this is a temporary measure being asked of you to make sure there is room for everyone on the network, and help make sure you don't get stuck on the wrong side of a FUP enforcement.

We wish everyone well during this pandemonium. Please be safe, please stay healthy. We will be here to support you as much as we can while we all weather this together.

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