Keeping you connected to what matters most: How to avoid digital traffic jams

What happens when too many cars try to drive on the same road? We all know it, probably far too well: traffic jam. And just like on congested roads, digital ‘traffic jams’ can occur when too much data traffic hits the internet, writes Telenor Myanmar’s Head of Managed Services Aung Zaw Wai.

Telecommunications networks around the world, including in Myanmar, are experiencing a surge in internet usage due to COVID-19. This Thingyan will become very different than what we know with people staying at home and distancing themselves from each other. How will this unprecedented increase in traffic impact our connections? And could the huge strain ultimately break the internet? Telecoms operators and digital companies around the world are taking drastic measures to ensure connectivity prevails.

Here’s an attempt at explaining what we do, how we work to keep you connected and what you can do to ensure a better network experience for all.

Telenor Myanmar’s Head of Managed Services, Aung Zaw Wai.

Networks are highways

Think of the networks as highways, and all the data that we send through them, as cars. What happens when too many cars try to drive on the same road? We all know it, probably far too well: traffic jam. And just like on congested roads, digital ‘traffic jams’ can occur when too much data traffic hits the internet.

Generally, all parts of the network are designed to meet users’ expectations in a normal situation. Every improvement to a network comes at a significant extra cost, so the network is designed to provide a good user experience for the average amount of traffic running on it.

These days, however, as COVID-19-related restrictions and guidance compels people to move and connect differently, we see much higher traffic at other times and in places than we normally do. This means the risk of experiencing digital traffic jams increases significantly both in mobile and fixed broadband networks.

Robust and intelligent connectivity

Myanmar’s telecoms networks have the advantage of having been built and expanded during the past six years. At Telenor, we’ve deployed proactive and predictive tools to optimize our network operations, and to plan expansions and capacity increases. This means we to a certain extent can predict surges in data traffic and deliver seamless data services even when many people are connecting. We also plan our networks with redundancy, which means there are more than one cable tying base stations and data centers together. We also run with several network operation centres to ensure continuity.

Still, there are some sure-fire factors that will lead to slow connection. They are connected to density and timing.

Love thy neighbour, but not their router

Slower connectivity could be caused by the WiFi router in your home. But the router itself might not be to blame: it may be working poorly due to disturbances from nearby routers. For instance, in a big apartment buildings many families have their own router — each transmitting signals to their own set of phones and tables. When these signals interfere, especially if they’re on the same channel, speed goes down. Then it doesn’t matter if the condo has a high-speed fiber connection — it’s your own and your neighbour’s routers that are the real culprits.

As with road transport, if you have a section where the road is poor, it will cause a big bottleneck for all the traffic over a larger area. The same applies for mobile and fixed networks. These networks have many devices and servers that each are capable of managing a certain volume of data traffic.

Get off the road or give way!

So what should we do to avoid internet gridlocks? The advice is the same as when you want to avoid a heavy traffic jam: staying off the roads when traffic is highest. Shifting your internet surfing to off-peak hours will give you a better and more stable experience. That is easier said than done: many of us are working within the exact same office hours — and we’re off work at more or less the same time. But with some small adjustments, we all can help ease the stress we put on our networks.

In Myanmar, peak hours are normally in the evening to midnight. The highest data usage falls in the streaming category. These days, however, videoconferencing has spiked significantly as more Myanmar companies, government officials and organizations are shifting to a work-from-home arrangement. This means networks are filled up throughout the day, with virtual collaboration tools in the day and streaming services in the evening.

Reducing quality to enable more to connect

So what to do if that important video meeting lags just as you’re making your pitch for a new project or try to win over a new customer? When connecting from home, consider turning off your video or reduce the number of participants with their camera on. This will give you a better voice connection and enable you to show screen content. Also, make sure to turn off other heavy applications before entering into that important video meeting.

When you kick back to relax after a long day in the home office, it’s worth considering reducing your streaming quality from 4K to Full HD. It still gives you great picture quality, but your network load is reduced by 50%. Some of the global streaming giants, such as Netflix and YouTube, recently announced that they will reduce streaming quality centrally to give everyone a decent service level. Gaming is another tough strain on the network and should primarily be used when other network users are not so active, such as during daytime on weekends or in the late evening.

Being responsible digital citizens

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated our societies’ transition to mobile connectivity and digitalisation by at least a few years. We expect this trend to continue and grow, and this is what we now factor into our network planning in Telenor Myanmar. More than ever, mobile connectivity access and sufficient bandwidth are becoming an increasingly fundamental human need. But as everywhere else, also the digital world requires each and every one of us to be responsible digital citizens so we can all stay connected to what matters most to each and every one of us.

Aung Zaw Wai is Head of Managed Services, Technology Operations at Telenor Myanmar. He has more than 15 years experience from telecoms and holds a B. Eng. degree from Yangon Technological University.

This article was first published in Myanmar Times on 3 April 2020.

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Telenor Myanmar

Telenor Myanmar

Telenor Myanmar was a mobile operator in Myanmar 2014–2022. The company will be operating under new brand from July 2022. www.telenor.com.mm