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Connectivity headaches in lockdown

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With millions of people around the world impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, national lockdowns have affected how businesses operate, with major disruptions in productivity and supply chains.

The impact of COVID-19 has resulted in the growing need for remote interactions, as more companies and educational institutions move to virtual workspaces, which have seen workplace software providers such as Microsoft, Google and Zoom witness increased demand for their work-from-home services.

According to Microsoft’sWork Trend Index, Microsoft Teams reached a new daily record of 2.7 billion minutes of use in one day, representing a 200% increase from 900 million minutes on March 16.

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The tech giant’s Office 365-based collaboration platform combines workplace chat, video meetings, file storage and application integration service for business employees, students and teachers.

However, one needs a good network connectivity to effectively harness the value of these unified workspace platforms.

It is a common saying in the country that ‘Network is bad or down’ which raise the question of what constitutes bad network connectivity.

Describing network connectivity issue, Aliu Sulieman, a Network Connectivity expert, said: ‘Day after day, many Nigerians stand in line for hours at banks, airline ticketing offices, government service providers like Customs, Driver’s license authority, among others waiting for network downtime. The usual culprit is that “the network is slow” or “the server is not going”. As a Network Engineer, I cringe each time I hear “the network” being blamed for portal design or capacity planning failure.

“Contrary to what the person behind the service counter would have you believe, there are a couple of reasons for these service failures and if we do not start addressing them, people will keep wasting indefinite man-hours in queues while trying to use technology that was supposed to make our lives easier. Too many of our software developers have no idea how to optimize or even evaluate the network bandwidth utilization of their applications.”

He however urged the relevant regulatory institutions in the information and communications technology to intervene with guidelines to address this anomaly.

“It is long overdue for NITDA and NCC to issue guidelines especially where public services are involved, to observe before networked software or portal is deployed for public use, the application developers should be required to demonstrate how many kilobits/second (kbps) of bandwidth is required per concurrent user. This will help the organization budget appropriately for network connectivity to give end users a hitch-free experience. Network operators supporting such portals must also be mandated to provide network and server utilization statistics on a weekly/monthly basis to help with assessment of resource utilization,” he stated.

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Sulieman noted that, because the cost of internet work connectivity can be high, organizations with largely centralized operations should be encouraged to have in-house servers with offsite connectivity as backup to reduce the amount of traffic going out over slow and expensive internet links.

Anurag Garg, former managing director, Direct on PC,(now Direct On Data) attributed part of the challenge to access.

He argued that a typical 3G base station can only deliver 7.2 Mbps and that telcos congest the few available 3G base stations with lots of subscribers which reduces the speed of the internet delivered to them.

He hoped that the situation will change as telcos upgrade to 4G which delivers up to 25Mbps per base station which give more access to data subscribers.

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