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Staying connected during the Covid-19 pandemic

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

Countries, cities and communities around the world are adopting restrictive measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Currently, the most effective ways we are aware of to slow the rate of transmission of the coronavirus is to wash your hands regularly and minimise social contact as much as possible. As self-isolation becomes the new norm, many people are turning to the Internet to stay connected – and to keep working.

Here I am, sitting at home, working away, surrounded by (dare I say empty) crisp packets. My proximity to the kitchen does not bode well for my health. That said, while the increasing numbers of people working from home need to pay attention to their expanding waistlines (going running seems to help me a little), IP transit services and ISPs have a slightly more challenging task ahead. They need to keep the Internet on.

The exponential rise in Internet traffic is already putting heavy strain on bandwidth capacity abroad. In a crisis like this, we really don’t want hospital x-ray machines and other vital medical equipment to stop working because the Internet is down, as #NLNOG so rightly pointed out in an industry thread last week.

Given that we currently face a lot of unknowns – particularly here on the African continent where the impact of COVID-19 still hasn’t realised its full Machiavellian potential – what can we do to ensure the continuity of Internet services for the health and well-being of our societies?

Businesses that form a critical part of Africa’s Internet ecosystem need to operate responsibly to ensure stability. Here are some ideas:

  • Be communal: Manage business priorities while simultaneously working together (be kind!) to avoid any loss in services as demand on critical infrastructure increases. Netflix, for example, has cut streaming quality in Europe for the next 30 days to help reduce the strain on ISPs. 

  • Be proactive: Review and consider emergency business practices that have been productive in hard-hit countries abroad and implement measures before being caught on the backfoot.

  • Be sensible: Just as medical services are asking people to postpone elective surgeries, I feel that it is important for the Internet community to postpone all non-critical maintenance. Have a look at the operational considerations for ISPs and network operators that Job Snijders of NTT put together for more on this topic.

  • Stability and security: Continue with work that improves routing security (look at MANRS and RPKI BGP ROV) and increases reliability, but don’t worry about cosmetic work for now.

  • Be safe: Protect your employees’ health by postponing any work that involves a group of people congregating, such as installing big routers or lifting heavy gear. Plan for the worst.

There are some new realities that we need to adapt to fast. Tradeshows and conferences have all been cancelled, borders and airlines are all closing for the foreseeable future. RIPE80 is a great example of the industry shifting from physical to virtual meetings, and there will be many more to come no doubt.

On the upside, my personal contribution to global warming has hit an all-time low (although I usually do offset my impact in other ways). Last year I spent 278 hours inside a metal tube hurtling through the sky, flying a total of 204 000km! On the downside, transporting critical equipment and people involved in shaping and ensuring the Internet keeps working will likely become very challenging.

All we really know right now is that we don’t know what lies ahead. That said, I err on the side of optimism and believe that tough times can reveal some extraordinary opportunities. Right now, many are working from home looking for better connectivity and collaboration platforms. That’s just one of the many different needs – some perhaps more critical than others - that will require our help as the next few weeks unfold.

For now, social distancing seems to be the best defence against COVID-19. By working together (virtually speaking of course) – and working responsibly - we can facilitate re-instil business confidence in due course and ease social stress as much as possible by keeping people connected. I implore the community at large to all do your bit… one way or another, we will get through these challenging times.

Right, time to check the fridge.


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