Aussie telcos prepare for surge in residential data demand

As the coronavirus pandemic forces more people to work at home, learn what the five major Australian telcos are doing to cope

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As more people are working at home to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Australia’s telcos are making plans to cope with the expected surge in residential broadband traffic that will result.

Computerworld surveyed the plans from the major Australian telcos: NBN, Vodafone, Telstra, Optus, and Aussie Broadband.

NBN’s plans for a broadband surge

With many businesses closing down offices or suggesting staff work from home due to COVID-19, NBN Co has been studying data usage shifts in other countries to prepare for a possible higher demand in residential data.

NBN Co said its engineering teams have been planning and strengthening the network in preparation to meet residential data demand that is likely to surge at different times of the day and night.

The plan is to incrementally increase data capacity allocation to retailers and it is requesting they place their orders for CVC (Connectivity Virtual Circuit) normally, and NBN Co will increase capacity as required to meet demand. Stephen Rue, NBN Co’s CEO, said the company will work with the industry to find the best solution regarding additional CVC.

NBN Co also said it will not charge retail carriers for up to 40 per cent of additional capacity for at least three months to help them enable COVID-19 social distancing measures. NBN Co’s price relief offer comes into effect on Monday 23 March, giving retailers up to 40 per cent more CVC capacity as needed at no additional cost.     

The actions were announced after NBN Co recorded a five per cent increase in network traffic on Saturday 14 March. Its peak throughput occurs usually around 9pm while network traffic during standard business hours of 9am-5pm is usually around half that of the evening peak.

“The national broadband network is dimensioned to exceed the nightly peak busy hour throughput requirements from our customers,” NBN Co said in a statement. “NBN Co also routinely plans for days of exceptionally high traffic and is working with our European colleagues to understand the potential impacts of isolation events on broadband capacity.”

NBN Co is instructing customers to check if their plans are sufficient to cope with the different needs triggered from a working from home environment such as uploading images or joining online video calls. NBN Co will limit non-essential maintenance to minimise planned outages in the upcoming weeks.

Vodafone’s plans for a broadband surge

From Friday March 27, Vodafone will offer postpaid customers on limited plans an additional 5GB of maximum speed data to use in the next month. It will also give all prepaid customers a one 3GB top up on their next recharge.

Vodafone Australia has told Computerworld both its mobile and fixed networks are well-equipped to manage additional traffic. “While more customers are using their mobiles during work hours where they live, fewer are using their mobile phones during the typical peak commute times,” a spokesperson said.

Vodafone said its NBN usage and peak throughput are broadly in line with expected growth and it is monitoring the network performance. 

Telstra’s plans for a broadband surge

As of today, Telstra is providing consumer and small businesses home broadband customers with unlimited data at no extra cost until 30 April. It’s also offered an extra 25GB of data for month to consumer and small business mobile customers.  

Telstra has been doing a range of tests and working on business continuity plans for its business and network operations and management, saying it is confident its network capacity can respond to the shift in numbers of people working from home.

The telco said it has resilient networks to respond to increase in demand however, depending on what is to come, services could be slower than usual at times. “We are in ongoing engagement with NBN Co as part of our day-to-day network capacity management for NBN-related services. We regularly adjust our provisioning to adapt to changing customer demand and will continue to do so as the current situation with coronavirus develops,” a spokesperson told Computerworld.

Telstra also ensured it can prioritise critical communications including to emergency services if required.

The telecommunications provider had already announced it was giving extra data to mobile pots- and pre-paid customers.

Optus’s plans for a broadband surge

Optus has offered eligible Postpaid mobile customers 20GB of additional data during April 2020. Prepaid customers who recharge with $40 or more during April will receive 10GB of extra data. 

Optus said it understands the importance of connectivity and “will be managing our network capacity to maintain connectivity,” the telco VP of regulatory and public affairs Andrew Sheridan told Computerworld through a statement. 

Aussie Broadband’s plans for a broadband surge

Aussie Broadband said its network is already provisioned to meet the highest levels of traffic as experienced on the nights of Sunday 15 March and Monday 16 March. “We will upgrade as necessary if we see peaks beyond our normal high range, but we believe we are reasonably well set-up to cope,” according to a company spokesperson.

Aussie Broadband is working on contingency plans across the business both for its networks and customer service. It has also been working with the industry and NBN Co to predict demand increase.

It has enabled customers on 12/1 speed plans to change onto to a 25/5, put a temporary halt on all internet suspensions due to late payment and is offering unmetered data usage between 6am and 6pm for all customers on limited data NBN and ADSL plans.

Liam Tung contributed to this report.

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