By Tony Baird, Wholesale & Infrastructure Director, Vodafone NZ
We’ve had another busy week at Vodafone, ensuring online and phone traffic flows smoothly for our customers as well as undertaking essential maintenance and investing in network upgrades to keep New Zealanders connected during COVID-19 level 4 lockdown and beyond.
COVID-19 has caused significant business impacts in every sector of the economy, including ours. It’s important we play our part in New Zealand’s fight against COVID-19 as much as we can and help customers stay connected in this time of need.
To that end, our teams are working overtime with lots of late nights on our networks, we’re buying new software and adding extra technology into the mix to avoid online traffic jams. We’re proud of the way in which we have been able to respond for our customers so far. This has meant some cost-pressures from increased demands on our network, which we’re delivering at no extra charge for the vast majority of our customers who are on fixed price unlimited plans.
Our latest analysis shows we’re seeing some new interesting trends in the ways COVID-19 is changing internet traffic and user behaviour.
Aucklanders and Cantabrians love to chat – and Auckland data use jumps more than other regions
We’re consistently seeing time on voice calls sit at 60% higher than pre-lockdown levels, on average. But there are some interesting nuances.
On weekdays, as work takes hold and conference calls replace in-person meetings, Aucklanders are spending the longest, or around 44% more minutes on phone calls – while those in Christchurch spend 34% more time on the phone. As the least chatty, Kaikoura District locals are spending -7% fewer minutes on phone calls during the week.
But this flips on weekends, when Christchurch locals take the turn as the chattiest region spending a whopping 87% more minutes on phone calls vs Aucklanders who spend 77% more minutes chatting on Sundays compared to pre-lockdown levels. However Kaikoura locals made up for shorter calls during the week, with 71% more minutes spent talking on the phone on the weekend.
Correspondingly SMS messages are down -25%, as New Zealanders instead turn to online messaging and voice calls on apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook messenger.
Online data continues to be 20% higher across the country, with spikes of up to 30%. Auckland is skewing a little higher on data use (+22%), vs Christchurch (+19%) and Wellington (+17%).
Daytime entertainment becomes popular
We’re seeing daytime online entertainment increase as Kiwis look to fill their time at home with video streaming.
YouTube and Netflix viewing is around 20% higher than usual peaks. During lockdown, YouTube usage ramps up at about 9am and stays high throughout the whole day, whereas pre COVID-19 you would see this increase from around 5pm.
Similarly, now we’re seeing Netflix usage start to ramp up at 11am, compared to previous times where it would ramp up from around 3pm onwards.
Additional capacity added to 265 x 4G cell sites
We’re investing in numerous urgent projects to add capacity, which this week included 265 of our 4G cell sites around the country.
Thanks to Nokia for providing the necessary software to complete this upgrade, and Dense Air for offering us their 2.6GHz radio spectrum for three months to boost internet capacity – with a number of Rural Broadband Initiative 1 (RBI1) customers benefitting, as well as those in urban areas.
Since we started offering rural broadband customers unlimited free data overnight, we have seen up to 40% more data consumed between midnight and 9am. This additional spectrum will help, but there’s no silver bullet for rural users and building additional cell sites via the Rural Connectivity Group will make the most difference in the longer-term.
We’re working with various government agencies on ways to further increase internet capacity.
Essential works continue throughout lockdown
We’re working on upgrading cell sites from 3G to 4G where we can in, in another effort to boost capacity – with Levin and Porirua being two areas benefitting.
We have deployed cell sites on wheels (COWs) to boost areas of congestion in essential services – including a hospital in Kawakawa, north of Whangarei.
Another project we needed to complete before the winter rain sets in was to upgrade a key section of fibre cabling near Kaikoura.
All of these efforts require a lot of time and effort from our hardworking engineers and partners, but we’re committed to investing to keep our customers connected during this time when internet and phone connections are even more important.
Focusing on what’s important: staying connected
Staying in touch with friends and family, and keeping life as normal as possible during lockdown is incredibly important. Our Vodafone team created a cool great this week showing all the ways that they are using technology to work, life and play online – and connect to missing family and friends.
Our technology enables remote connectivity like never before – and CV19 has shown everyone that video calls can often be just as good as face-to-face meetings. A side benefit is the environment is thanking us too, with reports showing emissions are going down, which is something we could consider longer-term.
We’ll keep managing the operational and financial impacts that such large increases in data and phone use are placing on our networks, and balance the reduced revenue impacts as we help New Zealander in a time of need.
We hope customers continue to make the most of online video parties and call loved ones this Easter to ease the pressures of being at home – and from all of us at Vodafone, stay safe.