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Rayann Mitchell and her mother Dian (not in picture) look at Prime Minister Keith Rowley press conference from her home in San Fernando, yesterday.

KEVON FELMINE

[email protected]

The COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt changed the balance of how we communicate, conduct commerce and seek entertainment.

But with the Government restricting the country’s activity to only those from essential services, leaving many people at home, telecommunication companies are now reporting increased internet usage and demand for services.

Over the past year, Digicel saw its overall demand for internet service grow, with customers shifting their spending on mobile data to Digicel+ for fibre broadband within their homes.

When compared to pre-pandemic figures, the demand for Digicel+ subscriptions has grown by 30 per cent.

“This is a trend that started one year ago. However, since May 3, we have not seen any major shifts in particular,” Digicel general manager Navin Balkissoon told Guardian Media.

“Where we have seen a major shift, though, is for WiFi coverage within the home and we have experienced a 20 per cent increased demand, month over month, for our Smart WiFi solution.”

Meanwhile, the Telecommunications Service of T&T (TSTT), which operates bmobile and Amplia, reports that with people predominantly home, it saw an increase in demand for connectivity in the household. And as more people rely on connectivity through WiFi, there was an expected decline in mobile revenues for the period.

“It is worth noting that we had a similar experience around this time last year,” TSTT said in a statement.

Flow Trinidad previously reported increased demand for services since the pandemic forced Work From Home and online schooling. On Friday, it reported that in the past year, there was a consistent increase in the demand for connectivity across the country, especially in rural communities where it established new connections.

“In the past month, this demand has been consistent with prior months. Our customers, however, have been increasing their demand for higher speeds through upgrades of their packages,” the company said.

Flow Trinidad saw a 17 per cent increase in internet usage from May 3 when most retail businesses, schools and services closed.

For the same period, TSTT also saw a marked increase in internet usage. The State-owned provider noted that the high usage currently seen in the day exceeds the consumption peaks that were seen at night before the May 3 lockdown. Normally, the peak occurs at night and the consumption drops during the day.

“This change in consumption pattern appears to be in line with the general expectation of citizens complying with the current restrictions. When looking at the statistics, we can advise that internet usage has rocketed upwards by 40 per cent and levelled off at the higher traffic levels.”

These traffic levels identified are higher than those recorded in previous years during the holiday periods when children were home, engaging in online activities.

Digicel continues to see a steady growth of traffic from last year, as more people get comfortable online.

Chandrika Samaroo, Digicel’s operations director, noted that while fewer people were now using mobile data daily, the ones who do were using the full generous data allowances that come with Prime Bundles.

Samaroo said the traffic growth is primarily seen on video consumption and streaming services like YouTube, Facebook, Netflix and WhatsApp calls.

With the increase in traffic, one can assume an overburdening of systems.

However, Samaroo said Digicel’s overall network is high capacity and scalable. Digicel operates a pure fibre network that is highly scalable.

“We are dimensioned to handle the traffic increases without any congestion to the customer but have already invested in expansions scheduled over the next quarter in anticipation that this accelerated growth continues,” Samaroo said.

Regarding Digicel’s mobile network, Samaroo said the company is exploring mitigation measures in light of the increasing usage. While its network core is capable of handling the incoming volumes, there is some congestion on the radio networks.

Samaroo said the Telecommunications Authority of T&T (TATT) provided some temporary spectrum to help alleviate the situation. The company still requires an additional temporary spectrum. However, the long-term solution demands a more permanent allocation, which Digicel has already requested from TATT.

“Adding this spectrum will require some investment but Digicel is willing to do our part to keep the quality of service at an acceptable standard.”

TSTT meanwhile says it continues to monitor and optimise its network, adding that it built its network to allow for seamless capacity increase. As part of its business continuity plans, the company developed internet infrastructure, including the subsea capacity expansions to respond optimally in times of crisis. The company currently has 75 Gbps of capacity on all sub-sea systems.

“As homes have become our new offices, classrooms and entertainment hubs, so we understand that now more than ever, connectivity is critical. As such, our teams have been even more vigilant and responsive to issues, no matter how small, to ensure that we have near 100 per cent up-time,” TSTT said.

Flow Trinidad said it had implemented measures for Trinidad and across Cable & Wireless Communications as a strategy since 2020 when COVID-19 restrictions came into effect.

“The good thing about being part of such a large organisation is that we can model and see growth trends in other countries who may have experienced lockdowns before us and plan accordingly. So, the network was ready for any increase in traffic. In response to customers’ increasing demands at home, we have been doing a series of upgrades throughout the network, which is continuous and ongoing,” Flow Trinidad explained.