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.
Data traffic has grown hugely in recent years, but there are still surge events like the Call of Duty Warzone release.
This squares with earlier experience. Chorus’ biggest ever day for data was when Wales met France in the quarter final of the Rugby World Cup. During the game network traffic hit 2.6 Tbps. That was up 37 percent on the 2018 peak. The second busiest day was when England played Australia in the other RWC quarter final,
Rugby World Cup aside, the biggest day in 2019 was on October 15 when. the Fortnite game was updated. Traffic hit 2.47 Tbps.
Earlier in the week Rodgers told me Chorus has noticed increased traffic with more people working from home in the wake of the Covert-19 pandemic. Chorus says it has more than enough network capacity to cope if working from home increases during the outbreak.
At Tech.pinions Carolina Milanesi writes about remote working during the COVID-19 epidemic:
There has been a lot of talk over the last week of how COVID-19 might be the pivotal moment for remote working to really take off. China, Silicon Valley, Japan and even Italy are all adopting remote working at various degrees to limit the spreading of the virus. There is such excitement around remote work that brands like Zoom have seen their stock value climb up.
While I really hope people are right and we will see remote working remain relevant once the threat is removed, I cannot help but be skeptical because we have been here before.
Teleworking has been a perennial technology story for well over a generation. I’ve written about the idea since the late 1980s. One of the first posts on this site was Will bosses accept telecommuting?
Telework in 2000
In the run-up to the Sydney Olympics in 2000 I was working for The Australian Financial Review.
In Avoid the rush and take up teleworking I wrote about Sydney’s plan to keep workers from commenting into the city during the games. From memory there was a lot of extra traffic at the time, in part because businesses took precautions.
ORTA, the Olympic Roads and Transport Authority, is promoting teleworking as a strategy to help companies beat anticipated transport problems. Teleworking happens when people carry out work at a location other than their normal office, but remain linked to the office. The connection might be as simple as a phone or a fax, but increasingly it involves remote computers linking to an office network.
In practice, Sydney companies using teleworking as a temporary measure during the Olympics will continue functioning more or less as normal. In many cases their customer and suppliers will not notice much difference.
This was such a long time ago that businesses still took fax machines seriously.
Better networks, better tools
With fast fibre networks, mobile phones, cellular networks, better software tools and better portable hardware, teleworking is so much easier today. Millions of people do it. It’s been part of my working life for 30 years. Yet it is still not as widespread as you might expect.
In the linked story Carolina Milanesi rightly says the technology is ready. Yet much of the time business culture isn’t prepared for remote working. She mentions trust as an issue.
Remote working needs trust
Trust isn’t a problem for consultants and other professionals who are paid for their output. It is an issue for command and control style managers. Those dinosaurs will need to give up some of their control as COVID-19 spreads.
Another issue mentioned in the linked post is that remote employees can feel isolated. That needs to be managed. Bosses won’t be able to do much during enforced periods of teleworking in a pandemic or other crisis. At other times there need to be strategies to make sure people feel part of a team.
Telework was a technology story when I wrote about it in 2000. It isn’t any more, today it’s a management story. Management need to think more in terms of employee output and less about time serving.
Former Telstra executive and telecommunications consultant Dr Jim Holmes says looking at New Zealand’s UFB project from Australia was like “watching the carnival over the hill”.
Holmes says: “NZ is declaring victory. They have produced some very good results with much less overall government pain and suffering than we’ve had”.
He added that the country provided a model example of bipartisan policy development.
This is not the only reason UFB succeeded and outperforms NBN, but it is an important one. As former Chorus CEO Kate McKenzie told me in an interview two years ago; this country is good at “New Zealand Inc.”. That’s where everyone puts aside rivalries and works together for the national good.
New Zealand’s UFB project started under a centre-right National Party government. A centre-left Labour-lead coalition government finished the job.
It was a National election promise in 2008, but Labour went in to the election with a similar plan.
Although there were political rows, the UFB was never under a political threat.
This compares with Australia where the NBN was, and to a lesser degree, still is, a political football.
Australia’s usual narrative goes on to compare its low rank in international indices.
There is no question it under performs against other countries. Although this is often overstated.
And we should remember New Zealand’s UFB had a head start. When New Zealand began its fibre to the premises roll-out, a fibre to the node network was already in place. Australia, in effect started from zero.
What should be of more concern to Australia is the sheer amount of money it wasted with NBN. New Zealand’s project came in under budget. The government money used for the fibre build was in the form of soft loans, so the net cost was negligible.
Compare that with the NBN. The total cost depends on who you talk to. The official cost A$51 billion. That’s a lot of money for a network which underperforms the carnival over over the hill.
Last week Spark announced its first half results for the six months to December 31. It is a solid report showing strong revenue growth.
Spark looks to be heading on the right track. Yet there is an interesting angle on one of the company’s strategic moves.
Nine paragraphs into the market release there is this quote from CEO Jolie Hodson:
“We made a deliberate decision to limit wireless broadband sales in the lead up to the Rugby World Cup, as a conservative measure to ensure customers had a great viewing experience while we introduced our new streaming service. Our capacity was more than sufficient, so we expect this to be a one-off and connection growth to return to trend in the second half.”
In other words Spark back-pedalled on fixed wireless broadband sales because senior management didn’t want customers to have a disappointing Rugby World Cup streaming experience.
Fixed wireless alternative
Spark pushes fixed wireless broadband to its customers as an alternative to fibre. It’s a strategic move because Spark owns its wireless network. That means the company doesn’t pay a wholesale fee to a fibre company. It keeps all the money and that makes for a higher profit margin.
Investors love that.
Downplaying fixed wireless broadband in the run up to the Rugby World Cup made sense. Although fixed wireless broadband should be able to give customers enough bandwidth to watch high definition streaming video, that’s not always the case in practice.
Unlike fibre, which has consistent and predictable performance, fixed wireless broadband performance varies from place to place. In some cases it also varies at different times of the day.
Fixed wireless broadband bandwidth is shared. So if a lot of people connect at once, speeds can drop. The Rugby World Cup saw data traffic peak across the nation. That put pressure on more marginal fixed wireless broadband connections.
Good at times
Fixed wireless broadband can be good. I’ve heard from happy fixed wireless customers who enjoy decent speeds and uninterrupted connections.
There are others who say their service does not do an adequate job with streaming video.
One common complaint is that wireless broadband speeds are not consistent. In some cases speeds vary in a regular pattern over the course of a day. Others say they get intermittent slow downs.
Conservative on fixed wireless broadband
Spark describes the decision to back-pedal on selling fixed wireless as conservative. That may be the case. But it underlines that the company is not confident about its fixed wireless performance.
There was no conservatism about selling fibre broadband to customers in the run up to the Rugby World Cup.
The message is clear: Spark knows fixed wireless broadband is a lower quality product. It knows customers get a better experience on fibre.
Customers with a 100 mbps fibre plan saw average download speeds of 99mbps. During peak time the dial barely moved. Samknows reported peak speeds at 98.6 mbps.
With fixed wireless broadband the average speed is 25.8 mbps. At peak times this drops to 22.7 mbps. That’s not a huge drop, but it squares with the anecdotal evidence that some customers see big drops while others see little or no drop.
Fixed wireless broadband latency
The SamKnows data also looks at latency. This is the time it takes for data to do a round trip. If latency is high, online users of applications like video conferencing and gaming can expect stuttering and dropouts. SamKnows says 30 ms is high.
SamKnows found nine in ten fibre connections had latency below 20 ms. In comparison 95 precent of fixed wireless connections had latency of over 30 ms. The average latency is around 50 ms.
Of all the latency tests performed on Fibre connections, 92% were below 20ms. At the other end of the chart, 95% of Fixed Wireless latency results were above 30ms.
That’s past the point where dropouts start. With everyday TV streaming, buffering can shoulder some of that load. Even so, it is a worse customer experience.
SamKnows’ summary says:
“…many fixed wireless connections will experience issues with latency-sensitive applications such as video calls and gaming.”
VDSL2+ can deliver near fibre speeds and in some cases is consistent and reliable. Before fibre came down my road I had a Spark VDSL2+ connection that delivered a consistent speed of more than 70mbps.
In three years it never wavered. You can read about my fixed wireless experience in this post. The speed was never anything like as fast as the VDSL2+ connection.
Fibre most reliable
Of course VDSL2+ is not as good as fibre. In the report summary SamKnows says:
“Households with multiple user should consider fibre, if available, for the most reliable performance.”
Spark knows all of this. The reason it pushes fixed wireless broadband is that the margins are higher. That’s because there is no wholesale charge.
For many Spark customers fixed wireless broadband is the right product. But let’s not pretend it isn’t an inferior product to fibre. Spark is willing to let its investors know that.
Disclaimer: I edit The Download magazine for Chorus as a contractor. It covers the company, the telecommunications industry and fibre broadband. These are my views and not those of Chorus.