‘Digital as usual’: balancing increased demands with reduced revenue entering level 3 – Vodafone NZ network report

By Tony Baird, Wholesale & Infrastructure Director, Vodafone NZ

This week marked a number of people and businesses getting started – and while it’s been fantastic to see a slight reduction in restrictions, we’re certainly not seeing reduced customer demand at Vodafone NZ.

When New Zealand entered level 3, we saw mobile data usage up +23% on pre-lockdown levels with mobile handovers +25% showing people are moving between cell towers - balanced by a slight decrease in fixed data usage - due to more mobile devices being used outside homes plus increased wireless broadband use.

At the same time we’ve continued to see massive demands from customers needing help, thankfully supported by our pivot to more digital service channels – with customer support staff working remotely along with redeployed retail store staff.

It’s worth highlighting that more than 90% of our broadband customers are on fixed price unlimited plans – which, coupled with vast drops in roaming revenue, means we’re dealing with increased data and service pressures while facing the harsh realities of reduced revenues.

Key trends at the start of level 3 - compared with level 4

  • Voice calls +60% - unchanged
  • SMS usage has jumped up to being -12% lower than pre-lockdown – up from being down -25% during level 4
  • Mobile data usage +23% - up from +20% under level 4
  • Fixed data usage +18% - down from +20% under level 4
  • Rural broadband (RBI) +25% (on-peak) and +40% (off-peak) - unchanged
  • International roaming -99% - unchanged

Wireless broadband comes into focus

An interesting consequence of the lockdown has been an increased uptake in wireless broadband (also referred to as Fixed Wireless Access) – which are broadband connections delivered via a mobile device.

Overall, we’ve seen an almost +50% increase in data used via these wireless broadband connections, including RBI, when comparing data use in April vs February.

We’ve also seen a spike of inquiries from people needing broadband connections, and – as wireless broadband is essentially a ‘plug and play’ modem that’s super easy for people to install and use – we expect this will continue to grow in popularity over coming months.

We’ve heard from customers that workers on construction sites find wireless broadband particularly useful – and with the increase in people on building sites this week, it makes sense that wireless data use has also gone up.

Digital customer service spikes, with our call centre and retail teams going online

Over the last six weeks, we’ve seen a massive uptake in online customer service, as our call centre staff have transitioned to new digital tools working from home around New Zealand.

Within an incredibly short time frame, we also redeployed more than 95% of our 370 retail staff while stores have been closed under alert levels 3 and 4, to help alleviate the massive increases in customers needing help and to ensure retail teams can keep selling remotely.

Because we’ve needed to ask customers to contact us digitally wherever possible, we’ve seen some incredible stats – highlighting just how busy our support teams have been in keeping customers connected.

Use of our chatbot TOBi has increased +550% – and our live online chat option has seen +400% more traffic compared to pre-lockdown levels!

Connectivity at sea: helping stranded seafarers offshore at Lyttelton

While most of us have been spending lockdown in the comfort of our homes, there are seafarers stuck on the water in boats unable to dock in our ports, with no access to Wi-Fi. This means they are unable to connect with families and loved ones, who are many miles across the ocean.

Upon hearing about the predicament some sailors were facing via a Facebook post spotted by one of our local team, we were pleased to help the Lyttelton Seafarer’s Centre with essential connectivity by supplying temporary modems.

Hopefully these Vodafone wireless broadband modems, which connect to a Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) mobile site, will be bridging some of the distance digitally.

Infuriating suspected arson at a cell site in South Auckland

A lowlight from the week was a deliberate fire being started at one of our very busy South Auckland cell sites, which was severely damaged overnight on Tuesday.

This cell site is located just off the Southern Motorway in Papatoetoe, and handles a lot of internet and phone traffic for New Zealanders trying to work or learn from home.

Every cell mast is essential for maintaining mobile services, particularly during a pandemic, when coverage is needed for critical health services and when people need to stay connected for remote working or online learning.

Our teams are working hard to ensure Vodafone customers stay connected via various technology initiatives, so this is an incredibly frustrating and senseless attack on critical infrastructure.

We will continue to work closely with police and government authorities in their ongoing efforts to combat harmful arson attacks – as well as highlight the negative impacts of misinformation particularly on social media.

Staying connected in Aotearoa

As we hopefully start to return to a new normal – or the ‘digital as usual’ – we will reduce the frequency of these updates to fortnightly. But we don’t expect the increased phone, internet and customer service demands to let up anytime soon!

We continue to work hard to keep customers connected, and we hope you stay safe in level 3.

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