The state of the internet in the Philippines continues to improve despite the occasional hiccups and remaining underserved locations. Whether it’s on fixed broadband or a mobile connection, one can play online video games, attend Zoom conference calls and stream Netflix shows with minimal lag and delays. It’s all generally fast and smooth, but then sometimes it’s not. Bad weather, for one, can make your Internet connection excruciatingly slow. Here’s why.
First, you ought to know that the Internet is a complex system. It’s not just, as one former US senator oversimplified it, a series of tubes. Rather, it’s comprised of servers, data centers, routers and other intermediary devices, satellites, cell sites and so many others. They are physically linked via cables and radio waves to form large networks, which in turn interconnect to become the backbone of a vast global network that is the Internet.
Each of these backbone components have unique roles for the transmission of data between computers across the Internet. Being physical objects, however, means these components may be subjected to damage, enough of which can lead to the whole Internet starting to falter or shut down completely.
Bad weather means bad Internet connection
This is where the weather comes into play, as exposure to water, heat and other elements can be devastating to Internet infrastructure. Plenty of news and studies are available to show how bad weather frustratingly results in slow or patchy Internet experience.
In 2012, Telstra advocated against offering naked DSL as it’s susceptible to water damage. The Australian Internet service provider argued that the copper network used for this service lacks a wetting current, and that moist air and water ingress from, say, light rain could result in corrosion to the wiring and therefore lead to faulty connections.
Rain is bad news for wireless connections too. Just like how satellite television services suffer during rainfall, 5G wireless networks can suffer from rain attenuation. It’s the loss of signal strength because of the rain absorbing the signal. The issue is particularly significant in the Philippines and other countries in the tropical region, where heavy rainfall is a common occurrence.
Similarly, the official support page for Starlink—Elon Musk’s Internet access service via a satellite constellation—even has a section related to weather. The page states that while the satellite dish provided to users is designed to withstand various kinds of weather phenomenon, it may still be subject to service degradation “during moments of extreme heat or cold.”
Then there are the times, of course, when the atmosphere takes it up a notch with storms, hurricanes, and other severe weather. In 2016, Globe suffered disruptions to their services as Typhoon Nina brought strong winds with speeds of up to 200 km per hour that led to multiple fiber cuts and structural damage to cell towers and other equipment.
In the aftermath of extreme weather, expect your Internet connection to be unavailable for weeks or even months. Internet service providers will need to deploy their network engineers and repair crew to assess the damage before they can bring back their services to normal. With some luck, there may be Internet services available in the following days, but these are made possible via temporary, generator-powered cell sites whose limited capacity may be far below the demands of the public.
In 2013, when super typhoon Yolanda left Tacloban in a devastated state, Globe and Smart needed some time to restore cellular services. They even had to set up temporary cell sites as most of their cell towers were structurally damaged by the typhoon.
During calamities, the government may deploy temporary Wi-Fi stations so affected citizens can go online and communicate with their loved ones, like what the Department of Information and Communications Technology did in the aftermath of Typhoon Odette. The private sector may also provide assistance, such as when Converge ICT set up an emergency Internet connection using VSAT satellites.
If not damage to Internet equipment, extreme weather conditions can cause enough damage to power plants, transmission lines, and distribution facilities, resulting in power outages. To an extent, you can remedy this issue by having your own backup power generator at home to power your modem, router and devices. But if the power outage is wide enough to affect your ISP, then your access to the Internet will be cut off.
You also need to consider how the weather affects the actions of people in your community. Just like how everyone is forced to stay indoors during the pandemic, people tend to stay put in their own homes during bad weather. The need for entertainment rises, and for many people that means going online to play, stream movies, or party. The increase in network usage in the community may slow down your own connection.
What you can do to improve your Internet connection despite the weather
Your access to the Internet is only as good as the condition of the ISP-provided devices and the cables connecting them. As soon as you notice your network equipment have worn down due to weather, verify if the damage has already affected the quality of your connection and see if you can fix the issue on your own.
If the problem is beyond your troubleshooting ability, report to your ISP right away. Conducting repairs and restoring their networks services back to normal may take days, so don’t hesitate to report issues as soon as they happen. In terms of refund, some ISPs aren’t proactive and may only adjust your billing if you’ve properly reported the service disruption.
During summer or days with extreme heat, make sure your routers and devices are operating within acceptable temperatures. Do not expose them to direct sunlight or place them in an enclosure without good ventilation to prevent them from overheating.
In some cases, your connection may still work even if your ISP has informed you that there is an ongoing service disruption in your area because of the weather or other issues. Service providers tend to have a network redundancy mechanism to make sure everything remains running via a backup system if the primary system has failed. As an end-user, you may not see any difference or slowdown in your connection. But if you do, try rerouting your network traffic through a VPN. Under specific circumstances, using a VPN may improve your connection. There’s also a possibility to slow it down further, but you can just turn it off if it doesn’t help.