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BusinessMarch 29, 2020

Broadband and data usage surges as New Zealanders reach out

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Whether to connect with friends and colleagues, catch up on news, or stave off the boredom with bingeable TV, we’ve all been on our devices a lot more than normal.

Vodafone has released a summary of its traffic stats for the past six days, which compares phone calls, broadband, and mobile data use against the average usage last month. It shows that on Monday afternoon voice calls spiked more than 70%, causing widespread disruption which you may have noticed if you tried to make a call in the frenzied days before the shift to Level Four.

“This caused industry-wide congestion issues and our technology team has been working incredibly hard alongside other telcos to fix the problems, which were mainly caused during the transfer process of connecting calls between networks,” Vodafone wholesale & infrastructure director Tony Baird said.

It turns out people are still making a lot of calls, with the numbers sitting at around 60% higher than regular levels. According to Baird, this is due to more people “checking in with friends and extended family, plus workers switching to conference calls to continue operating.”

Similarly, mobile data use has increased dramatically in the past week, spiking 50% higher than usual on Monday and Tuesday. Mobile data usage eased off to around 20% higher toward the end of the week, but broadband internet traffic has remained at around 32% higher than normal levels.

[Graph]: Daily data utilisation in Gbps (Gigabits per second), showing internet traffic throughout the day – the peaks, troughs and massive increase in data streaming we’ve seen during COVID-19. Vodafone/Tony Baird
Baird said broadband and data traffic has been rising particularly during the evening – prime time for video streaming – and when major government announcements are being streamed live.

The millions of dollars Vodafone invested in Rugby World Cup streaming last year meant that the systems were well-placed to handle the increased demand, which will also be affected by higher video-game usage, he said.

“For example last night (Friday), when the online game Call of Duty released an update, Gbps data throughput almost doubled (+100%) on the Akamai CDN.”

Because of the increased pressure from more people streaming online videos, earlier this week Netflix NZ followed the lead of its European operations and reduced the amount of data it sends over New Zealand’s broadband networks by a quarter, reported the NZ Herald.

“Given the crisis, we’ve developed a way to reduce Netflix’s traffic on telecommunications networks by 25% while also maintaining the quality of our service,” a Netflix spokesperson said.

“So consumers should continue to get the quality that comes with their plan – whether it’s Ultra-High, High or Standard Definition. We believe that this will provide significant relief to congested networks and will be deploying it in New Zealand for the next 30 days.”

Vodafone has also taken action to support customers during the shutdown by removing broadband caps in urban areas and encouraging mobile customers to switch to unlimited data plans.

“We have heard similar calls from rural broadband customers also wanting uncapped data. To ensure everyone can get online during the day, we’re unable to lift caps completely – but we’re pleased to now offer unlimited free data overnight, between midnight and 9am,” Baird said.

Vodafone had seen 40% higher than usual data usage during the early hours, indicting the unlimited free data offer has been well received, he said.

However he said government assistance would be needed to bring rural networks up to the standard currently enjoyed by urban broadband customers.

“Longer-term, additional investment into the Rural Broadband Initiative will go a long way to keeping rural customers connected at times of crisis like we currently find ourselves in.”

Baird said Vodafone will be working alongside Spark, 2 Degrees, Chorus and Vocus – all of which have also seen surges in demand – to ensure New Zealanders stay connected digitally while being disconnected physically.

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