Why Internet speed is slower and slower
Nepal’s Internet speed was slow to begin with, but with surging demand for bandwidth as people spend more time at home, it has become even slower.
Internet Service Providers do not have a strong backbone, and there is not enough space on cache servers to meet a 24-hour demand for video as the lockdown sees a spurt in YouTube and TikTok use.
“Users are on the internet throughout the day,” says chairman of Internet Service Providers’ Association Nepal (ISPAN) Bhojraj Bhatta. “While traffic pre-lockdown peaked in the morning and evening, post-lockdown traffic is consistent throughout the day.”
Demand for internet connections has grown abnormally in the past two phases of lockdown, as everything from use of social media platforms, Zoom meetings of schools and businesses and watching movies went online.
Internet consumption jumped 25% from 400 to 500 gigabytes per second in April after the first lockdown went into effect. With new prohibitory order in mid-August, internet usage grew another 25%, reaching 625 gigabytes per second.
Nepal’s internet infrastructure is made up of an international gateway and local networks. The crossborder links are through underground fibre optic connections that internet service providers (ISP) have with India’s Airtel and Tata. Another fibre optic link with China is still being tested.
The domestic network is made up of local caches for YouTube and Google, for example, that use artificial intelligence to ‘pre-fetch’ trending content in local servers so they do not have to depend entirely on international links. For example, TikTok now takes up 25% of the bandwidth in Nepal, and most of that content is already stored in caches and does not have to pass through the international gateway. Another third of all downloaded content is presently from YouTube.
But even if content is downloaded from a cache in a local server, the internet can still be slow because of saturation in local switchboards when everyone is logging and downloading at the same time.
To provide low-cost internet, ISPs deliver the internet in a shared package. While each consumer can expect a certain amount of bandwidth to be available to them, the sudden surge in usage means these expected allocations are not enough. With a fixed monthly fee for unlimited internet, demand for consumption has gone up abnormally, says Binay Bohara of Vianet.
Some of the smaller ISPs are poorly-equipped with limited technology and infrastructure to handle the growth in volume, and unable to handle the spike in demand. ISPs lack the means to check bandwidth entering a consumer’s router, making it difficult to fix issues.
Consumers are also generally unaware about internet speed and what affects it. Says telecommunications expert Anandaraj Khanal: “Since the internet package is shared, customers do not get the given amount of bandwidth on each and every device.”
Some 80% of consumer complaints since the lockdown concern slow speed of connection and service. Then there is the cost, which has shot up with the addition of 13% Telecommunications Service Charge, 13% VAT and 4% royalty fees.
“Despite there being so many companies, the market has been unable to capitalise on the surge in demand,” says Bohara.
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Customers seeking high-speed internet and using high-load apps are putting pressure on an already strained system, forcing ISPs to ‘import’ bandwidth from India. The dependence on Indian fibre optic corridors leaves Nepali connections vulnerable to failures, and with increased load, complaints regarding internet quality and service have gone up.
Adds Bohara: “ISPs are struggling to accommodate increased bandwidth consumption by high-load apps such as TikTok and YouTube.”
Quantity over quality has been the trend in the Nepali internet market, saturated by hundreds of inactive Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offering no service even as demand booms during the lockdown.
Only 40 of 125 ISPs registered with Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) have active internet users, of which only six are the main players in Nepal’s internet market. As of May, only 11 had submitted reports that confirmed their status as active ISPs.
Worldlink (368,787 users), Nepal Telecom (243, 947 users), Subisu (124,620 users), Classic Tech (120,907 users), Vianet (108,153) and Broadlink (60,754) are currently the main players.
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To foster competitive growth and improve service quality, the government announced the ‘Internet Service Operation Regulations-2019’. This includes setting minimum requirements of Rs40 million nett-worth and up-front capital to be a provider. New business models and qualifications were also introduced.
Companies must also declare five years worth of estimated costs, profit-loss margins, pay-back periods, predicted consumer volume and projection of service coverage. Service fees must also be disclosed, while renewal fees must be paid every five years.
NTA is also proposing a hike in the entry fees that companies need to submit to enter the market. While current fees stand at Rs300,000, the NTA has proposed a new entry fee of Rs2 million, renewed every five years at 90% of the original fee.
Says NTA spokesperson Minprasad Aryal, “With no minimum requirements for market entry, there were many idle service providers.”
With the new requirements, there is a hope that smaller companies will be able to challenge larger companies on quality rather than by lowering prices.