Are Canada’s networks ready for work from home?

With the COVID-19 pandemic leading more Canadians to work from home, some people are asking if this will put too much stress on the networks or on consumer service plans.

The good news is that Canada’s networks are ready for working from home, even with kids streaming videos while home for March break or closed schools, and very few types of work should put undue strain on typical residential subscriptions.

Popular Science recently published “Here’s how much internet bandwidth you actually need to work from home” which provided the types of bandwidth needed by many of the more popular business conferencing services.

Bandwidth requirements for video-chat applications
Screens Up Down
Single Screen 2.0 Mbps 2.0 Mbps
Dual Screen 2.0 Mbps 4.0 Mbps
Triple Screen 2.0 Mbps 6.0 Mbps
Screen Sharing Only 150-300 kbps 150-300 kbps
Audio Only 60-80 kbps 60-80 kbps
Google Hangouts
Use Up Down
Minimum Requirements 300 kbps 300 kbps
Two-person Video Calls 3.2 Mbps 2.6 Mbps
Group Video Calls 3.2 Mbps 3.2-4.0 Mbps
Type of Call Up Down
Voice Call 100 kbps 200 kbps
Video Call (2 participants) 600 kbps 600 kbps
Video Call (3 participants) 600 kbps 2.0 Mbps
Video Call (5+ participants) 600 kbps 4.0 Mbps

Contrast these relatively low speed requirements to Netflix, which Popular Science says needs 25 Mbps for its highest quality content, or 3 Mbps for its standard definition streams.

We know that the greatest consumption of residential internet bandwidth is high definition streaming video. Very few work-at-home applications would come close; hardly any would involve sustained levels of streaming data that rival delivery of 4K video streams.

According to the CRTC’s Communications Monitoring Report, in 2018 (almost a year and a half ago), more than half of Canadian home had already subscribed to residential internet packages with more than 50 Mbps download speeds. The average residential download speed in 2018 was 126 Mbps, double the speeds experienced in the United States. A third of Canadian households subscribed to speeds faster than 100 Mbps.

According to the CRTC, “The average amount of data downloaded by residential Internet service subscribers increased by 25.4% between 2017 and 2018 to 192.9 GB per month, and by an average of 30.5% annually from 2014 to 2018.”

As temperatures begin to reflect the annual Spring thaw, it marks the beginning of outside plant construction season for wireline and wireless carriers in Canada seeking to invest in capacity upgrades and service expansion to underserved regions.

The government is launching a billion dollar economic assistance package, “to help Canadians cope with the COVID-19 outbreak, with half of the money going to the provinces and territories.”

I mused yesterday on Twitter

A number of regulatory and federal policy actions over the past year have contributed to a “hostile political environment” that inhibits private sector investment.

How much more broadband and wireless investment could be taking place?

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