Highs and lows of digital connectivity as the new normal sets in – Vodafone NZ network report
By Tony Baird, Wholesale & Infrastructure Director, Vodafone NZ
Since we went into lockdown on 25 March, the digital landscape has shifted considerably. We’re seeing a new normal in terms of internet and phone traffic - with calls and data use significantly higher than pre COVID-19 levels, creating what might be a new baseline for our networks.
There have been a large number of highs - plus a few lows - as we respond to the 'online new normal' where remote learning and working have become a reality for many New Zealanders.
One interesting trend this week has been increased movement around the country. When we went from alert level 4 to 3, we saw a considerable drop off in mobile handovers (when a mobile device switches from one to another cell site) - and while that is steadily increasing as we go down the levels, the change in alert level 2 has been less dramatic.
Here’s a recap of where we’re at:
Key network stats in alert level 2
- 50% higher compared to pre COVID-19 baseline - down from 60% at Level 3 and 4
- MMS (PXT) usage is now back to pre COVID-19 level
- SMS usage up in level 2, now 15% lower than pre COVID-19, after being down 25% during Level 4 (as more people using messaging apps and phone calls instead)
- Mobile data total usage up 23%, increased from 20% at level 4
- Fixed usage up 15%, down from 18% higher at level 3, due to more people going outside/leaving their homes
- Facebook & VodafoneTV continues to see 20% higher usage than pre COVID-19
- Rural (RBI) mobile data = 25% higher than pre COVID-19 (on-peak) & 40% higher usage overnight with free unlimited data (off-peak)
Mobile handovers show more people are getting out and about
Under alert level 4, when New Zealanders were asked to stay at home, we saw ‘mobile handovers’ (the process of a mobile device connecting from one to another cell site) decrease by 42%. This is unprecedented, to use what is fast becoming a cliché.
When we moved to alert level 3, mobile handovers increased significantly (up 25% on Level 4 levels) – but were still 22% lower when compared to February (pre COVID-19 levels).
As we entered alert level 2 on Thursday, mobile handovers have increased a bit more – now at 20% lower than our previous baseline. Interestingly, some may have expected that figure to have returned more to pre-lockdown levels, potentially signalling that some people are still a little nervous to get out and about, and others continue to work from home.
It’s been a privilege to keep New Zealanders connected
While the past couple of months has seen a lot of late nights and long days, we’ve also been proud to keep our customers working, learning and playing via digital tools. Some of the highlights include:
Sustained increases in phone calls and internet usage show that New Zealanders are staying connected digitally.
We’ve seen very positive customer responses to us offering uncapped broadband data, both in the city and rural overnight.
Our team has maintained 24x7 network operations remotely - assisted by an increased focus on online support channels, supported by retail and customer operations staff working remotely.
There have been some creative initiatives too - including the DreamLab app, which is helping researchers find treatments for COVID-19 while app users sleep - plus the Vodafone Lounge Jams concerts on Facebook helping to support our musicians via the MusicHelpsLive charity initiative and entertain music lovers.
Our Vodafone Foundation has done an amazing job supporting community partners with much needed assistance during this time via releasing emergency funds, supporting operations, or device donations.
We’ve also seen great industry collaboration throughout, with the network teams working well together with support from all infrastructure operators.
But there were also a few lows…
On the day Level 4 was announced, March 23, the industry experienced interconnect voice issues due to calls not connecting between networks as volumes skyrocketed to levels unseen in recent times. This was quickly resolved, and phone calls remained approx. 60% higher than pre-lockdown levels throughout levels 3 and 4.
Arson attempts have unfortunately happened throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which are senseless and infuriating - and have the potential to cause massive disruption to our customers and communities. Our industry response can be found here and we continue to work closely with authorities as well as introduce new security measures in a bid to protect cell sites.
Fibre cuts at the start of level 3 caused by third party contractors resulted in unexpected connectivity issues - but we appreciate the extra efforts to be vigilant to avoid this in future.
COVID-19 has also stretched our customer care teams, with lockdown restrictions and health and safety practices in New Zealand and in other locations where Vodafone support services are based, meaning we have had to operate with reduced capabilities at times. We thank our customers for their ongoing patience, as we expect some customer care teams to be impacted for a few more weeks - with digital channels still being the best way to contact us in the first instance.
It’s been a busy period - but I’ve been proud to lead a remarkable team of dedicated professionals.
Helping New Zealanders stay connected, via our networks, has been privilege.
Stay Safe - Vodafone.