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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.

 

The 5G network brings about a lot of the things that go to make up smart cities.

Last month I wrote about 5G for the NZ Herald’s project Auckland report. You can read the original story here: Project Auckland: How 5G will transform the city – NZ Herald.

The first part includes an interview with Matt Hitti, who looks after strategy and architecture for Vodafone. He thinks the impact will be profound.

The key is that 5G will trigger a massive change in the way organisations work with remote sensors. 5G has much greater capacity. This means it can push more data through the air while also pushing it faster. Extra capacity also means many more devices can connect to the network at the same time.

Connecting sensors to wireless networks isn’t new. Connecting many more sensors and sensors capable of much greater throughput is. Hitti says some of those sensors will be high definition video cameras.

I’ve been writing about 5G for five years now. When you get behind the obvious hype and marketing, one thing is clear: 5G is not really about mobile phones and consumers. Its focus is machine to machine connections.

The consumer aspect is largely a smoke screen. You may want 5G on your phone, but you don’t need it.

Business, on the other hand, does need 5G, not just for internet of things applications, but for tasks like remote control of cranes and building reconfigurable factories. Spark demonstrates this with its Americas Cup projects. Hitti talks of 5G applications where computing power is pushed out to the edge of networks so incoming data can be processes and given a response in real time.

This is the true 5G story and frankly it’s a lot more interesting and exciting than any consumer application. Most of the important stuff will happen out of sight in the background. And yes, it will transform the city.

Chorus says it will waive wholesale broadband charges for up to 50,000 homes that do not have network access. The move aims to help 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, VDSL if fibre is not installed and ADSL if VDSL is not available. Because there are restrictions on installing new fibre connections under the Covid-19 lockdown, 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 get these homes connected 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.

Operational challenge

“Delivering these connections to students in a matter of weeks will present a huge operational challenge for the industry but 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.

Traffic on Chorus’ fibre network hit a new record peak on Thursday at 2.84Tbps. The company says this is comfortably within the network’s available headroom of 3.5Tbps.

It says this is 24 percent above the normal baseline. While traffic continues to increase, Chorus says it expects it to reach a steady state as the Covid–19 lockdown settles down.

Daytime network traffic is much higher than before the virus outbreak. Yesterday the traffic at noon was 1.99Tbps, roughly double the traffic before the crisis.

It’s not only Chorus, the nation’s four fibre networks are more than equal to the job being asked of them.

My advice to anyone reading this who is in a fibre area but not yet connected is to upgrade as soon as possible. You will probably have to wait until the lockdown finishes first. It’s likely there will be future lockdowns so be prepared.

If you’re yet not in a fibre area, check to see when it arrives. The second phase of UFB is underway. If your area is not scheduled for a fibre upgrade, it may pay to see what you can do about that.

If you are already on fibre, work from home and don’t live on your own, upgrade to a gigabit plan, they don’t cost much more and they will give you enough bandwidth to work while others in your house watch Netflix or play games. The upgrade doesn’t require a site visit from a technician, so it can be done now and doesn’t take long.

New Zealand voice networks recorded the highest call volumes in history this week. There was a peak on Tuesday. This followed Prime Minister Jacinda Arden’s announcement she was raising the Covid-19 alert level from two to four and the country would begin a four-week lockdown.

All carriers experienced congestion. Callers overloaded government call centres with enquiries. The congestion affected the three mobile networks and Spark’s landline calling network.

A Spark spokesperson says: “Following the prime minister’s Covid-19 announcement today, telecommunications providers experienced call volumes beyond any level of calling ever seen in New Zealand. This is creating significant congestion for voice calling at an industry-wide level.”

The TCF spoke for the industry saying telecommunications companies were working quickly and collaboratively to fix the issues arising from congestion.

Carriers called on phone users to switch to digital communications technologies using the nation’s fibre network to free up voice lines.

Customer services struggling

Customer service teams struggled to cope. In part this is because operators closed their overseas call centres or are running them at a reduced level to protect staff from infection risks. There were also much high call volumes.

Vodafone issued a plea to its customers to use the company’s mobile app, chatbot and website where possible to reduce the load on call centre staff. The company asked customers were to contact the company’s social media team which extended their hour to cope with the extra demand.

The company says: “Due to precautionary measures in New Zealand and internationally, our customer care teams are managing the impacts of Covid-19 while dealing with higher call volumes. We have major call centres in different offices in New Zealand and India, and a small specialist customer care team in the Philippines – and while we’re able to redirect work and calls for some customers between them, we are also planning for future impacts including what we can expect will be further increased restrictions on movement in cities worldwide.”