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COVID-19 locks down global broadband speeds

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Global broadband speeds plummeted after governments across the globe imposed lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19.

This is according to this week’s report by Cable.co.uk, which compared average Internet speeds in 114 countries, including SA, during and outside of their most stringent COVID-19 lockdown periods.

At the time of writing, there were over 18.9 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus across the world, with 12.1 million recoveries and 711 622 deaths.

In SA, government introduced the COVID-19 lockdown in March. The deadly virus has so far claimed the lives of over 9 200 people in the country.

Analysts at Cable.co.uk measured, per country, speeds both during and outside of the most stringent lockdown measures falling between 1 January and 30 June.

In the 114 countries that instituted such lockdowns, speeds dropped by an average of -6.31%, says the firm.

Commenting on the findings, Dan Howdle, the consumer telecoms analyst in charge of the study at Cable.co.uk, says: “The results are startling. Although an overall drop of just -6.31% across all countries doesn’t sound like an awful lot, this figure moves very much against the tide.

“Our annual global broadband speed tracker has demonstrated global increases of around 20% year-on-year since 2017.”

Broadband blues

Howdle says for the majority of countries in this study to be moving in the opposite direction during their COVID-19 lockdowns, then, is all the more significant.

“While it is impossible to attribute direct causality, our study shows a high correlation between lockdown periods around the world and dips in measured Internet speeds, with some regions of the world measuring the most substantial drops, and others more or less unchanged.

“The picture is an interesting one indeed, and I hope our work will be of interest to anyone who seeks to further understand the influence of stringent lockdown measures on network capacity and capability.”

Cable says in Sub-Saharan Africa, 13 of the 14 qualifying countries recorded drops in measured Internet speeds during their lockdown periods, with an average decrease of -14.24%.

SA’s Internet speeds dropped -5.48%, the report says.

However, it says Angola bucked the trend in the region, showing a surprising increase of +117.19% during its lockdown period.

Meanwhile, Madagascar (-37.71%), Cote d’Ivoire (-30.77%), Ghana (-24.58%) and Nigeria (-20.84%) experienced the largest drops in measured speeds during their respective lockdowns.

It adds that Northern Africa recorded the second-highest overall drop in Internet speeds during lockdown periods, with all five qualifying countries in minus figures.

Libya (-27.38%) recorded the largest drop, followed by Tunisia (-23.23%), Morocco (-18.72%), and Algeria (-13.76%). Egypt's Internet speeds experienced the smallest drop at -5.96%.

According to the study, the region where speeds dropped by the greatest percentage overall was Central America, with an average drop of -26.03% during its combined lockdown periods.

Only one of the six countries qualifying in this region experienced a rise (Costa Rica at +0.82%). Meanwhile, Panama (-48.99%), Guatemala (-14.30%), Honduras (-3.69%), Mexico (-2.35%) and El Salvador (-0.01%) all experienced drops in speed of varying severity.

In Asia (excluding Near East), Internet speeds dropped by -16.33% on average for the region, says the report, adding that 12 of the 19 qualifying countries experienced slower Internet speeds during their lockdown periods, with China (-50.97%) showing the largest drop both in the region and the world.

South Korea (-30.45%), Malaysia (-29.51%), Sri Lanka (-23.29%), Bangladesh (-21.76%), India (-21.05%) and Nepal (-20.77%) also experienced significantly slower speeds during their lockdowns.

Nonetheless, the report points out that Afghanistan (+23.95%) and Vietnam (+12.84%), bucked the trend in this region, showing statistically significant increases in speed during their lockdowns.

Hit and miss

Cable notes that South America showed an average drop in Internet speeds of -16.11%, with seven out of the 11 qualifying countries measuring drops in speed during their lockdown periods.

Chile (-36.77%), Peru (-36.76%), Paraguay (-29.91%) and Bolivia (-21.45%) experienced the most precipitous drops in measured speeds. Conversely, small increases in speed were measured in Guyana (+8.51%), Brazil (+3.55%) and Uruguay (+2.37%) during their lockdown periods.

Howdle says Western Europe (-4.66% overall) shows an interesting picture, with 12 of its 15 qualifying countries exhibiting measured drops in Internet speed during their lockdown periods.

“However, Ireland (-2.23%), United Kingdom (-1.70%), Portugal (-0.19%) and Switzerland (+2.90%) all exhibit changes in speed that should be considered somewhat negligible. The countries showing the largest drops in average speed during their lockdown periods were Finland (-24.81%), Netherlands (-13.01%), Austria (-10.47%) and Italy (-10.44%).”

According to the report, Northern America – a region with only two qualifying countries – averaged a drop in lockdown Internet speeds of -2.91%.

It notes that speeds in Canada fell by -10.82% during its stringent lockdown period. Meanwhile, the US saw a small rise in speeds during its lockdown period (+3.32%).

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