Covid-19 side effect: As people binge-watch at home, telcos feel the heat

Topics OTT platforms | COAI | Coronavirus

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has asked the Centre to instruct the over-the-top (OTT) players like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Zee5 to ease the pressure on network infrastructure that has arisen from the increased demand for online video streaming.

Demand has surged because of the coronavirus lockdown, more people working from home, more digital payments, more healthcare and education services moving online, and quarantine measures to contain the spread of Covid 19.

“Due to lockdown/quarantine measures in various parts of the country, a sudden surge in demand for online video streaming is also expected to rise substantially,” the COAI has said in a letter to the Telecom Department secretary.

The COAI has also cautioned the streaming platforms themselves about the surge in digital use straining the network infrastructure of telecom operators. It has urged companies to take urgent steps. One is temporarily switching from high definition to standard definition streaming. Another is removing advertisements and pop ups that consume high bandwidth and replacing them with public announcements on awareness about the coronavirus.

At this crucial time, COAI said it is absolutely essential for the streaming platforms to cooperate with telecom providers so as to manage the traffic distribution patterns that are likely to strain the network infrastructure ‘at a time when it is needed for various critical requirements’.

Citing the ‘unprecedented situation’ caused by the outbreak of the coronavirus, the COAI noted that governments around the world are imposing stringent measures to reduce social interaction to contain the spread of the pandemic.

"In the past few days, in India too, advisories have been issued by various government agencies including social distancing, restrictions in terms of workplace, also encouraging Work From Home (WFH), online/digital education, digital payments/transactions, online healthcare, wherever possible and other critical requirements to be met through digital means. This sudden surge in digital use is already putting pressure on the network infrastructure of the Telecom Service Providers (TSPs)," said the COAI.

The association has written to a dozen streaming platforms including Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Hotstar, Zee5, Alt Balaji, Voot, Sony Liv, Viuclip, Hoichoi, Netflix, SunNXT and Voot seeking their ‘cooperation for joint action to facilitate smooth functioning of data communications services in this critical period’.

"We understand that there are various measures that the streaming platform companies can undertake in this present situation to continue to provide a suitable level of service to their customers at the most appropriate bitrate required...," the COAI said in its communication to streaming platforms.

The COAI mentioned how OTT players in other countries were reacting. "We understand that similar measures are being taken by various streaming platforms internationally like in the US and Europe as more and more countries enter lockdown to combat the spread of the virus," it said.  

The need of the hour, it believes, is for companies offering streaming platform services and telecom service providers to take joint responsibility for ensuring the smooth functioning of the data communication networks during this nationwide public health crisis.  

Gourav Rakshit, COO, Viacom18 Digital Ventures which owns Voot, acknowledged the significant uptake in consumption over the past week and said he was pleased that the COAI was attempting to minimizing the burden on infrastructure.

Rakshit said that with the number of Voot users rising to 100 million, Voot had already begun streaming in standard definition. “We do have a very small percentage of our users on the Voot Select platform but they are also already able to downshift to a standard definition feed in line with their increased consumption,” said Rakshit.  

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Saturday said that all hospitalised patients who have pneumonia or severe acute respiratory illness (SARI) will not be tested for COVID19.

SARI patients would have high fever, cough and shortness of breath as major symptoms.

ICMR has also noted that anyone who has come in contact with a COVID19 positive case should also be tested even if they do not show any symptoms.

So far India was testing people who had recently travelled abroad and subsequently showed symptoms, and people who had come in contact with these people and showed symptoms of COVID-19. The testing guidelines are reviewed from time to time.

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