Covid-19 self-isolation: How to survive using tech

Get your internet and devices set up to help you beat boredom and stay social.

Happy family watching TV and using tablets.

The Covid-19 pandemic has sent New Zealanders into four weeks of self-isolation, but you don’t have to be bored or lonely – here’s how technology can keep you entertained and socially connected.

Remember that isolation only refers to physical interactions. Keeping socially connected is vitally important for your well-being. We’ve got tips on how to use technology to stay in touch with others and stop yourself going stir-crazy.

Check your home internet connection is up to the task

Your internet connection is going to be essential through all of this. You’ll want to ensure your network is robust enough to handle everyone in your home being online simultaneously.

  • If you have a fibre connection, you’re in a good position. Fibre is more capable of handling multiple streams of high-speed data than ADSL or VDSL broadband.
  • Find out how fast your network is. Use the websites Speedtest.net or Fast.com, the latter is optimised for measuring streaming video from Netflix. Anything over 5Mbps is good enough to stream video, but obviously the higher number the better.
  • Place your router in the best position. Either in the centre of your house, to maximise coverage, or closest to your high-use devices – such as laptops, desktops, and TVs. If possible, connect those devices to your router via an ethernet cable rather than WiFi.
  • Use the 5GHz WiFi band. Your router should have two signal bands – 2.4GHz and 5GHz (sometimes confusingly abbreviated to 2.4G and 5G). The latter is faster and so your important devices should be connected to that one. If you need more information on the exact settings for your router, check your router’s manual.
  • Check your data. Being at home more means you’ll use lots more data. Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees have removed data caps until the end of June 2020 for home and business customers, and will waive late fees for those in financial hardship. Orcon doesn’t have data caps. If you have another provider check their website.

Entertainment options to beat cabin fever

Video streaming

Streaming video services are a godsend at times like this. Services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Neon have loads of content you can binge while in isolation.

Family on couch streaming a show on TV.
Watch streaming video with friends throughout the country by coordinating start times.

You can even watch streaming video with friends throughout the country either by coordinating start times and using video chat or using third-party programs, such as Netflix Party.

As most sporting events are cancelled or postponed, Spark Sport and Sky Sport Now are showing re-runs, highlights packages and other extras. Spark Sport is also free until the end of May.

Also trying to entice more viewers, Acorn TV (which streams British TV shows) has extended its free trial period for new users from seven days to one month. Use the code ACORNTVNZ30 to activate it.

Get your video game on

Video games are a good way to hang out with other people while staying indoors, with lots of multiplayer games having in-game chat features. There’s no need to go into a store, as most games are available via download. For consoles this is via their stores, and for PC games try sites such as Steam’s online store or Humble Bundle.

Xbox’s Game Pass service is also a good option, as you can get a lot of games for a single subscription fee. Apple Arcade is a similar service for Apple users. Note that the games are only playable if you have a current subscription and will require an internet connection.

Read and listen more

This is also a good time to support writers you enjoy by buying their books as e-books. And because concerts have been cancelled, you can support musicians instead by buying their music via sites that send profits directly to the artists (rather than streaming), such as Bandcamp.

Video chats to hang out with friends

Video calling your friends and family is one of the best ways to keep in social contact when physical contact is prohibited.

Video chatting friends on laptop.
Video chats aren't just for talking – almost any type of social gathering is possible, such as playing board games or having a glass of wine.

There are lots of free apps you can use such as Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams and Facetime (Apple only). Some of these offer paid accounts, which have more options.

But you don’t need to just talk. Video chats can be a chance to play board games together, have a glass of wine, or almost any other type of social gathering while staying physically distant. You can also screen share, which allows you to show those on the call what you’re looking at.

Video streaming etiquette

If you’ve never video chatted before and want to know the etiquette. The basics are:

  • Look at the camera, not yourself on screen.
  • Try to keep the camera at your eye height, otherwise the view will be straight up your nose.
  • Don’t have a bright light behind you, like a sunlit window.
  • Don’t talk over others and turn your microphone off when you’re not talking.
  • If possible, use headphones with a built in microphone.

Some programs offer “beautification” filters and customised background images to make things a bit more fun. However, if you find the video is lagging behind the audio or getting jittery, turn off the extras as they take more bandwidth and could be slowing everything down.

Food options when you can’t eat out

One thing we all need to do is eat.

Supermarkets are doing their best to fill online delivery orders. Remember the Government’s announcement and shop normally. This means no stockpiling and no “just in case” buys. Online deliveries may seem like an easier and safer option than queuing, but remember you may be taking a delivery slot from someone unable to get to the supermarket.

Watch out for scams and fake news

Even at times like this, awful people will be trying to scam you and your loved ones. Ignore any emails or communications mentioning Covid-19 that don’t come directly official sources, such as the Government or your registered medical centre.

These scams are preying on your fears to make you less aware of what you’re clicking on. Stay vigilant. Even during a global crisis, people will share inaccurate or outright fabricated stories on social media. Sharing fake information during a pandemic can cost lives.

These articles can easily fool people, so here are a few things to consider before you share it with others:

  • Is the person posting the story an official or someone in a position to have information (such as a politician or journalist)?
  • If they claim to be an expert, does the poster have credentials that can be easily verified?
  • Is there a link to a reliable or verified source?
  • Is the story hearsay? “I heard from a friend that …”
  • If you’re unsure, check Snopes.com. It has a group of dedicated researchers and a long track record of debunking internet myths and false articles. Snopes should be your first port of call when you come across any story that doesn’t seem right.

If you make an online faux pas and share a fake story, act quickly. You may be embarrassed but admit it to everyone on your online networks and delete as much as you can, so the story doesn’t spread.

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Crowd of people walking.

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Read our latest articles on the Covid-19 pandemic. Got a consumer-related question about coronavirus? Email us at info@consumer.org.nz and we'll do our best to help.

Member comments

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Kelly
28 Mar 2020
Fixed Wireless

Here is an interesting article around Fixed Wireless.

https://billbennett.co.nz/fixed-wireless-broadband-covid-19/

Hope this is helpful.

Cheers, Kelly Armfield

J W.
29 Mar 2020
Fixed wireless - really?

More fake news I'm afraid.
While these things could happen, I'm happy to report that they haven't. I've got Wireless broadband temporarily while I'm waiting for fibre. I am about 300m from a Spark cell-mast and I'm getting over 130 Mb/s most of the time.
If I was in a position where $200 cash in my pocket made a difference to me I would be cancelling my fibre order right now.
Cheers, Jef.

Steve S.
28 Mar 2020
Removal of data caps for rural RBI wireless

I was pleased to read on Vodafone's website that they were removing data caps for broadband plans. Great, I thought, with my wife and me working from home and our 120GB cap in jeopardy this will be really handy.

Then I read the fine print, where "Fixed Wireless" is excluded. Why? Out here in the country we limp along with anything from 1 to 20 Mbps, frequent outages, restrictive caps, and now we don't even get relief as others do in a time of national pandemic crisis. Seems patently unfair to me, and I've yet to receive an explanation.

Hope Consumer can provide one, or engage with the telcos and find out.

J W.
29 Mar 2020
Vodafone data caps

You could try ringing Vodafone and asking (nicely) for your cap to be lifted. That's much more likely to work than hoping they'll offer it to you.
Sadly, Vodafone doesn't have a great reputation for serving customers well. Have you got a long term contract with them or can you skip to another provider?
I'd have to say I've been pleasantly surprised by Spark's competence and they seem to have a much better relationship with Chorus than other telcos.

Consumer staff
30 Mar 2020
Fixed wireless caps

Kia ora Steve,

Fixed Wireless is essentially the same as mobile broadband, as in it uses cell phone technology to get the signal to cell towers and then eventually into the fibre network. Because of this the data transmission and reception is the same as the data on your phone.

This is why it's not as fast or reliable as fibre, and why it costs the telcos a lot more. But it is cheaper for them to roll out (no installation costs) so a lot of people have it, especially those who can't get any other form of broadband.

There is a possibility that the telcos will cave to pressure on this issue and remove data caps for those on RBI wireless during the lockdown, so the best thing to do is ring Vodafone and talk to them directly about it. If they refuse to remove the cap ask for some other perks to offset it.

Cheers
Hadyn Green - Senior Tech Writer

Steve S.
31 Mar 2020
Update from Vodafone

Finally got an official communication from Vodafone about this:

"From 27 March until the end of June 2020 we are offering unlimited# data to our Rural Broadband customers in the low-peak time period from midnight to 9am. This will allow these customers to download Netflix or entertainment content at low-peak times ready for viewing the next day during high-peak.
#Speeds may vary. Vodafone NZ reserves the right to apply its Traffic Management Policy, to improve the overall performance and experience among our customers, and to protect our network."

I suppose this is better than nothing, but is very much geared to those wanting entertainment. For many of us, we need to keep working between 9am-5pm, so the data cap will continue to hit us.

I can't help thinking that Vodafone is neglecting rural kiwis who have no chance of fibre, and very limited if non-existent copper. They seem quite happy to let their limited 3G/4G infrastructure run well over capacity, resulting in bandwidths that are barely adequate for voice calls, let alone the luxury of video streaming. 5G? Seems to be sucking all their resources to deliver bandwidth to city folk who are well-served anyway, but a distant dream for rural folk. Ok - rant over.