Chorus says traffic on its UFB network reached a record high on Thursday evening. It says data traffic peaked at 3.15Tbps.
This was at around 8pm. Traffic always peaks in the evening when people stream television services like Netflix.
Yet that wasn’t the reason for Thurday’s surge. That was when developers released the most recent version of Fortnite, the popular online game.
Once a fortnite
Chorus says the Fortnite update beat the previous network peak. That was earlier in the month when there was an update to the Call of Duty game. A pattern is emerging with big game downloads.
The network coped with the load without congestion. We can’t take this for granted.
Earlier in the year traffic surged when New Zealand first went into lockdown. This was a heady mix of people working from home during the day and using video conferencing. They then stayed in at night and streamed movies or TV shows.
Volume all the way up to 11
In March traffic hit 2.8 Tbps. At the time Chorus pointed out this was well within its theoretical maximum capacity of 3.5 Tbps.
Thursday’s peak came close to this level. Chorus says today’s network capacity is around 4.5 Tbps.
New Zealand got lucky when the pandemic triggered a surge in data demand. Only months earlier telcos upgraded networks to cope with anticipated Rugby World Cup demand.
We’re not so lucky when it comes to blockbuster game downloads. Games software companies time worldwide launches to co-incide with international demand lulls. That happens to be New Zealand’s demand peak. So we push our networks to the limit.
Away from games and streaming, Auckland’s level 3 lockdown saw higher daytime traffic. Although it is up on recent weeks, it hasn’t returned to the levels seen during the first lockdown.
Chorus says traffic was at 1.49 Tbps at noon on Friday. That’s around 40 percent above the level earlier in the month when there were no lockdowns. The company says Auckland traffic was up 69 percent, the rest of the country was up only eight percent.
Much of, if not all, the attention fast broadband gets concerns users consuming data.
Yet every fibre connection on the UFB (Ultra-Fast Broadband) network is bi-directional. Data travels in both directions. And many fibre plans are symmetric: Data goes up the line as fast as it comes down.
You get a lot of benefit from having a connection and keeping your ‘down’ data line full. But you can get so much more from broadband if your ‘up’ line is busy too.
This is the case whether you are a commercial broadband user or a consumer at home.
If you use broadband at work, sending large amounts of data can be productive. In creative industries, the data you send up the line to the Internet may even be your business.
Scratch your creative itch
For home users, sending data, as well as consuming it, can be more fun. You may have a creative itch you want to scratch and it’s more satisfying if you share the result.
At the time of writing, UFB fibre plans range from a basic 30Mbps down, 10Mbps up, to Hyperfibre with 4Gbps in both directions.
It’s no accident that people who choose the fastest broadband get symmetric connections with a fast up-link. They often work in creative industries like video production or movie making, or online games creation.
These industries are growing, for instance, last year New Zealand’s interactive games developers earned over $200 million. That is double the amount they earned two years earlier. New Zealand’s games developers sell to customers around the world. Almost all the money comes from exports. Their busy up-stream data traffic is helping give New Zealand’s economy a boost.
Video needs fibre
Away from the creative industries, video is a great way to get customer attention. Apart from fast broadband, you need a decent video camera. There is one in almost every modern mobile phone. Throw in a little imagination and your company can get attention from anywhere in the world.
The same goes for individuals. It has never been easier to create your own data-rich content. If making YouTube videos doesn’t appeal, you can post music online or start a podcast. Tell the world about what interests you and connect with like-minded people.
One simple and rewarding way to make better use of your connection’s data uplink is to build your own website. There are easy-to-use tools like WordPress that make this a breeze. Run a blog, show your cat photos or hang out your shingle in cyberspace.
Whatever you choose to do, remember your fast data link has an up line as well as the down line that you can use to good effect.
This post was originally published in The Download, a Chorus magazine that I edit. There’s a lot more interesting material about fibre and telecommunications to read there. And, yes, it was written before lockdown, but the point applies even more today: a fibre line is a idea for scratching your creative itch.
It’s no secret that, for most New Zealanders, broadband is world class. Our UFB network was always a good thing. It proved its worth again since the Covid–19 forced large numbers to work from home.
Fibre is by far the best technology for these times. It is reliable and has ample bandwidth. Most homes have enough capacity for people to work and hold video conference meetings while others watch streaming video.
A 100 mbps plan is plenty for working from home. No applications demand more bandwidth. You could run half a dozen separate video conferences and still have headroom to play with.
Get a gig
Yet gigabit plans cost only a few dollars more. Unlimited data plans are affordable too. Few starting today sign up for less than a gigabit connection with unlimited data.
This combination can cost as little as $80. Taking inflation into account that’s often less that we paid for dial-up or ADSL. If money is short, there are cheaper fibre plans.
We got to this point because a dozen years ago politicians from both main parties went into an election promising a fibre network.
An earlier generation of industry reforms forced Telecom NZ into operational separation. As part of that process, it build a fibre to the node network. This made building fibre to the home easier.
Lucky first time
Were we lucky? Well, we were in the sense that everything needed to get to this point converged at the right time. Although it may not have seemed like that back then.
This was in 2009. The 2008 Global Financial Crisis was still a threat.
In the November 2019 edition of the Download magazine I interviewed Sir John Key and Steven Joyce about the original UFB plan. Times were tough. A fibre laying infrastructure project was part of the plan to get New Zealand back on its feet.
As Sir John says:
“UFB was an ambitious programme. We executed it really well. You can contrast this with the NBN (National Broadband Network) in Australia. I spend a lot of time in Australia and the Australians are jealous that we delivered this fantastic outcome while they are still battling.”
The events of recent weeks have only served to underline this.
Lucky two times
The second lucky break was when Spark outbid Sky TV to buy the broadcast rights to the Rugby World Cup. Telcos around the world have stuck their feet in and out of broadcast sports rights. BT in the UK has some Premier League football. Optus and Telstra in Australia have links with sporting codes there.
Sparks’ plan to show Rugby as a digital stream was also ambitious. As it turns out it was alright on the night, apart from an early glitch.
We got lucky a second time because of that ambition. It became clear Spark had overreached. The networks were robust and strong. Yet they may not have been quite ready for millions of New Zealanders to watch the nation’s favourite sporting tournament online.
To prepare, Spark and the other telcos invested in beefing up their networks. Chorus and the fibre companies did the same. The entire industry brought forward about 18 months or so of network investment.
In the end it was over-engineered. The industry built almost half as much more capacity than needed. It was better to be safe than sorry.
It turns out that over-engineering gave networks more than enough capacity to deal with most of the nation working from home. In the next few days school and university students will be studying from home. We have the bandwidth.
There are challenges ahead. We will need more capacity and more headroom. The fibre companies and the telcos are working to stay well ahead of the demand curve. When it comes to broadband, the lucky country is New Zealand.
Bill Bennett edits the Download magazine for Chorus.
For the last week or so Chorus has issued a daily update on the data traffic passing through its network. After an initial surge when large numbers of people began working from home, things have settled into a pattern.
It’s the new normal. As Spark’s technology director Mark Beder points out, weekday data use now looks the way weekend’s looked before the lock down. Weekend peaks are now higher again.
Spark says the amount of data on its network has doubled since widespread remote working started. Data peaks are about 27 percent higher than before the pandemic arrived.
Peak mobile traffic is up 22 percent. The company says it has seen some congestion at times and is working on adding capacity.
Call of Duty update
An update to the Call of Duty game on the first weekend of the lockdown period caused what Spark technology director Mark Beder describes as a “massive spike”.
Away from Spark, Tuesday evening saw traffic peak at 2.70Tbps on the Chorus network. There was an update to the Fortnite game during the evening which may have accounted for the extra traffic. The busiest midday this week was Wednesday with 1.72Tbps.
Both Ultrafast Broadband and Enable Networks have registered similar increases. UFF says it now sees about double the amount of pre-lockdown data.
Traffic well within capacity, for now
The Chorus figures are well within the network’s capacity limits. In the run-up to last year’s Rugby World Cup, which was streamed by Spark Sport, Chorus and most of the rest of the broadband industry brought forward capacity upgrades by 18 months or so.
Today the network is built to cope with 3.5Tbps. That’s comfortably above the peaks we are seeing at the moment. Traffic could go higher again when school and university terms restart, but there appears to be more than enough headroom to cope.
Chorus says it will waive wholesale broadband charges for up to 50,000 homes that do not have network access. The move aims to bridge the digital divide. It helps students now forced to study at home because of Covid-19 pandemic measures.
For six months households identified by the Ministry of Education as needing broadband for education will get a free connection. This only applies where there is suitable Chorus infrastructure.
The plan is to use the best available broadband. That means fibre where a connection is in place. It means VDSL if fibre is not installed and ADSL if VDSL is not available. There are restrictions on installing new fibre connections under the Covid-19 lockdown. For that reason Chorus says it expects most of the connections will use the copper technologies: VDSL and ADSL.
Speed is of the essence
Ed Hyde, Chorus chief customer officer says: “I am excited to be able to confirm that the Chorus network can be used to provide access to essential tools for learning to students in homes that do not currently have a broadband connection.
It is important to connect these homes as quickly as possible. Hyde says Chorus will work with internet service providers so that learning can resume from the start of the second school term of the year.
He says; “As a wholesale provider, Chorus can’t deliver the whole solution. We’re now looking to the internet service providers who package up our products for consumers to also support the Ministry of Education, with both financial and operational support.
Digital divide an operational challenge
“Delivering these connections to students in a matter of weeks will present a huge operational challenge for the industry. We know how important this is so we will be working hard to get this done.”
InternetNZ CEO Jordan Carter says he is pleased to see Chorus working with ISPs and the government towards increasing digital inclusion during the lockdown. “Affordable internet access for all New Zealanders is vital to maintaining social cohesion, sharing essential information and maintaining work and education.”
Tuanz CEO Craig Young says he expects retail internet company to pass on the free wholesale price in full. He says: “There is a real need for this collaboration we’re seeing to continue, but also to widen across the industry”.
Enable, Ultrafast Fibre move to serve excluded schoolchildren
Enable says it will offer free wholesale fibre broadband to connected homes where schoolchildren unable to access the internet. The company says there are up to 2000 unused fibre connections at the moment.
Steve Fuller, Enable CEO, says: “I can only imagine how isolated some children are feeling when they can’t connect to their school community or their friends and we want to help as many of them as we can”.
Central North Island fibre company Ultrafast Fibre has made a similar move. It says there are around 1,650 households in its area that have an unused connection. Like Enable, UFF will offer a 200/20 connection.