Spanish carriers see a 40% spike in network traffic due to COVID-19

Spain's top service providers banded together on Monday to ask subscribers to judiciously use their networks in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.

Telefónica's Movistar, Orange, Vodafone, Masmovil and Euskaltel said they are closely monitoring and reinforcing their networks, but they are experiencing a "traffic explosion" in recent days due to COVID-19. In general terms, traffic through IP networks has increased nearly 40%, while mobile use was up about 50% for voice services and 25% for data. In addition, traffic from instant messaging platforms, such as WhatsApp, has "increased fivefold in recent days."

With schools suspended and companies telling their employees to work from home, network traffic for remote work platforms, such as Cisco's Webex, has increased fourfold.

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After years of touting faster broadband speeds and more bandwidth intensive video streaming service, the Spanish service providers are now asking their subscribers to perform measures such as shifting video streaming to off-peak hours in order to better serve virtual learning and telecommuting applications. Off-peak hours were defined as between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. in the afternoon and 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Other measures include using landline phones instead of mobile phones, downloading large files only when necessary and doing so during off-peak hours, and not sending large files, such as video presentations. For the latter, the carriers said customers could use links to where the presentations were stored.

Other guidelines include avoiding mass emails and using collaboration tools such as Slack or Microsoft Teams.

"Rational and responsible use of the networks will allow all of us, service providers, companies and individuals, to ensure that we have quality communication that is sustainable over time, in the face of a scenario of increased work and remote schooling that may last several weeks," according to Monday's press release.

While the recommendations represent practical considerations for keeping the network up and running for everyone, it remains to be seen if home-bound users will be able to moderate— instead of increase— the use of their broadband services. Empty toilet paper shelves in grocery stores could be an indicator that they won't.