A Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) survey shows many Canadians report slower internet speeds as home usage increases significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those slowdowns, however, haven’t impeded the operations of the commercial real estate industry.
The CIRA survey found 38 per cent of respondents reported slower home internet connections than before the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures began. However, Josh Tabish, CIRA’s corporate communications manager, said Canada’s networks have handled the increased traffic despite widespread work-from-home initiatives and school closures.
“We definitely have seen data and traffic rates increase significantly . . . (In Canada), we’ve seen increases of 10 to 20 per cent at all those internet exchange points,” he told RENX. “Traffic is definitely up, (but) so far we’re not seeing the same problems that folks in Europe are seeing.
“For example, in parts of Europe the European Union has asked Netflix to downgrade the quality of their video streams to help relieve congestion.
“We’re not seeing anything like that in Canada yet. That’s the good news.”
Internet “pain points” begin to emerge
That said, some portions of the networks are feeling the strain.
“The importance of a high-quality, high-speed broadband connection has never been greater,” Tabish acknowledged. “Practically overnight we saw everyone’s education, everyone’s social calendar and everyone’s work have to transition online.
“Our survey data suggests that we’re starting to see some pain points emerge as more and more and more activities move online, but for now our defences appear to be holding.”
Lisa Fulford Roy, senior vice-president and head of CBRE’s Canadian Workplace Strategy Practice, said the commercial real estate firm has virtually all its staff working from home.
“We have invested heavily in technology and the tools specifically around technology and hardware-related technology as well as in workflow. We’ve really moved to digital workflow.
“I wouldn’t say (it’s) a paperless office, but we focused on digitization several years ago across Canada,” she said. “So when it came to our transition . . . it was absolutely seamless.
“We’re seeing how tech can make or break an organization. Companies that held back on investing in technology are now experiencing big challenges processing work and maintaining connectivity with their suddenly remote workforces.”
Fulford Roy said from an IT perspective the company has had no issues. However, when looking individually at some people’s capabilities with WiFi in their homes, some employees have experienced slower speeds. It has not impacted business operations, though.
Adapting to work-from-home routine
Todd Throndson, managing director, principal of Avison Young in Calgary, said the vast majority of his company’s office staff are also working from home.
“We don’t have a rule that says you can’t work in the office, but we’ve strongly recommended to everybody to work from home and stay in isolation,” said Throndson.
Personally, 95 per cent of his work is done from home, though occasionally he goes to the office if something needs his signature.
“It’s a mixed bag. Some people are adapting extremely well. People who tend to be more introverted tend to do very well with a home environment. They’re comfortable working from home. They’re still engaged with their clientele through phone or Zoom or whether methodology they’re using.”
However, Throndson said some of the most extroverted people struggle with not being able to engage with people on a more personal level.
“All of us are struggling with the connectivity to people and to clients,” he said.
During the first work-from-home week there were some issues, and a few occasional problems since, but by and large most people have found their internet connectivity adequate.
“We do try and do most of our calls in the mornings so we’re not interfering with the school system,” added Throndson.
“Not missing a beat . . .”
Michael Kehoe, broker/owner of Fairfield Commercial Real Estate in Calgary and lead ambassador in Canada for the New York-based International Council of Shopping Centers, said commercial real estate is a business of immediacy.
All practitioners need to be available by phone, email and video conference to their clients and everyone in their transactional network.
So far, he’s had no issues with connectivity or the speed of the internet.
“We’re not missing a beat. The industry moves at hyper speed because everyone’s connected on their desktop or their devices,” said Kehoe.
“Everyone is mobile. We’ve all learned to adapt and be portable. We can work from anywhere and nothing has changed in that regard.
“The people I have been in touch with have found it seamless working from home or establishing a home office.”
Tom Keenan, a professor in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at the University of Calgary and a national technology and internet expert and author, said major internet providers have all been laying fibre in recent years.
“Fibre has a much higher capacity than copper wires. So where we are hearing about problems is people who are on DSL (Digital Subscriber Link), which is the old technology coming in over the old copper wire,” said Keenan, who chairs the Information and Technology Council of Canada.
Evan a fibre network will eventually “max out” he said, “but most of the reports I’ve seen is that it’s holding up well.”
Another factor, said Keenan, is data compression technology has improved greatly. Sending video is much easier, simpler and more efficient today.
CIRA and the internet survey
CIRA manages the .ca top-level domain on behalf of all Canadians. If you operate a .ca website, it’s the agency which registers and administers the domain.
The CIRA survey reported the number of Canadians working from home has grown seven-fold, leading to dramatic increases in video streaming and teleconferencing.
More than half of working Canadians who responded to the survey said they were working from home due to the pandemic, compared to only seven per cent working from home before it began.
The survey also found:
* nearly half of households (44 per cent) reported having two or more people working at home due to COVID-19;
* 61 per cent of respondents working from home said having no commute was the biggest perceived benefit;
* nearly half (45 per cent) said the biggest drawback is fewer face-to-face interactions, followed by problems “switching off” (27 per cent) and lack of proper office equipment (25 per cent); and
* one-in-four people (26 per cent) working from home reported having no dedicated workspace, so they had to continually move around.
Want to test the speed of your internet connection? CIRA operates the Canadian internet performance webpage, which will allow you both to test your own connection and compare it to others in your neighbourhood, region or across the country.