Netflix denies quality drop as it reduces bitrates by 25 per cent

Netflix has said its bandwidth reduction, introduced this week in the UK and Europe, won’t mean an appreciable loss of picture quality for enthusiast subscribers. 'This is a technical change that shouldn't affect the quality of the streaming,' the company posted on Twitter. 'You will continue to see content in the quality of your plan (always depending on the connection and the device, as before), so your experience should be the same.'

The OTT giant announced that it’s reducing bitrates to bring about a 25 per cent reduction on European and UK networks for 30 days, following conversations with EU officials.

The move follows a communication between European Union Commissioner Thierry Breton and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, asking for a switch to Standard Definition ‘when HD is not necessary.’ His suggestion was as network ‘infrastructures might be in strain’ due to increased pandemic-related traffic, a reduction could help.

Netflix has not gone all the way with the suggestion, but is now implementing bitrate reduction techniques.

However the idea that the internet was coming under pressure due to the virus outbreak has been debunked by David Clark, a senior research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and AI Laboratory.

The 70’s Internet pioneer, speaking to Decrypt, says the move was wholly unnecessary, saying there’s plenty of internet bandwidth to go around, in Europe as well as in the rest of the web-connected world. 'That just tells me they don’t understand how the internet works.'

Clark goes on to explain that internet bandwidth is not a static thing, as more capacity is being added all of the time. 'The idea that the internet could somehow reach its peak is a myth. There is no peak.’

ISP Virgin Media has also refuted that its network was under strain. 'As the ISP with the UK’s fastest widely available speeds, Virgin Media is well prepared for our people and customers to work from home. A full assessment has been carried out with continuity plans put in place,' it announced in a statement.

'Our network is built to withstand evening and weekend peaks when our customers use their broadband most intensively. As such, any usage increase seen in the daytime (caused by more people working from home, for example) will be catered for from our existing network capacity. We are continually investing in our network so are ready to make any necessary changes if they are needed.'

Further reassurance comes in a summary of data usage based on consumption patterns as of March 18, supplied to HCC. Virgin Media notes that while data use is increasing on a daily basis, it’s continuing to provide broadband speeds faster than their advertised headline package speed, citing 213Mbps on its M200 product.

'We’re seeing increased network demand during the day, starting from around 8am. Downstream traffic has increased by as much as 50 per cent during daytime hours but is still below regular peak evening levels.'

The most obvious change is upstream traffic, which has increased by as much as 80 per cent during daytime hours, as more and more people are working from home. It notes this increase is sustained throughout the day and into the evening peak, with peak upstream traffic up around 20 per cent on previous week.

As an aside, Virgin Media’s landline network has also seen huge growth in demand with voice calls up 80 per cent week on week during the morning busy hour, peaking at 10am with just under 3 million calls per hour.

However, with more customers working at home and using Wi-Fi, it’s reporting a slight decrease in the use of 4G data.