Vodafone network status report: Data and calls spike as New Zealanders stay inside

By Tony Baird, Wholesale & Infrastructure Director, Vodafone NZ

On Monday, 23 March, Aotearoa entered new territory when PM Jacinda Ardern announced that the country would go into lockdown on midnight, Wednesday 25 March. At Vodafone NZ, we also entered new territory as New Zealanders have been turning to their smartphones and devices to stay connected to the outside world.

Overall we’re seeing massive increases in data and voice traffic. To provide an analogy, if the internet was a road we’re seeing anywhere between 20-70% more cars join the highway all at once! But our network is built to handle traffic peaks, and we’re doing all we can to keep New Zealanders connected.

[Graph]: Daily data utilisation in Gbps (Gigabits per second), showing internet traffic throughout the day – the peaks, troughs and massive increase in data streaming we’ve seen during COVID-19

Phone calls rise to levels unseen in recent times
Voice calls spiked to more than 70% above usual levels on Monday afternoon – which is unprecedented in recent times. This caused industry-wide congestion issues and our technology team has been working incredibly hard alongside other telcos to fix the problems, which were mainly caused during the transfer process of connecting calls between networks.

Phone calls on the Vodafone network continue to sit at around 60% higher than usual levels – as people check in with friends and extended family, plus workers switch to conference calls to continue operating.

We’ve put a range of new measures in place to shore up our phone networks to keep up with this new pace of demand. Thankfully, we completed our nationwide investment in new technology to support voice calls, or 4G Calling via VoTLE, in January, which also puts Vodafone customers in a good position going forward.

Data traffic increases significantly
We’re seeing massive spikes in data use, particularly when major government announcements are being streamed live.

On both Monday and Tuesday, we saw mobile data spike to 50% higher than usual peaks – and overall traffic is now generally sitting at approx. 20% higher than usual. Likewise on broadband, we’re seeing internet traffic increase by around 32% compared to normal levels, particularly during the evening peaks when video streaming becomes even more popular.

Last year, in preparation for increased streaming around the Rugby World Cup, we brought forward millions of dollars in investment meaning the Vodafone network is well-placed to cope with these increased demands. For example, last night (Friday), when the online game Call of Duty released an update, Gbps data throughput almost doubled (+100%) on the Akamai CDN.

We have spare capacity in our networks, but we ask Kiwis to please be kind. That means that if there are minor, intermittent outages like we experienced this week, please be patient as we have hundreds of technical experts on standby 24/7, ready to spring into urgent remedial action if needed.

Video platforms take steps to help reduce data
On Wednesday, it was reported that Netflix, Google-owned YouTube and Amazon Prime would be taking steps to reduce the amount of data consumed by their video streaming platforms. We welcome these initiatives and thank the industry for their support.

With VodafoneTV viewing sitting at 20% above usual levels, we’re in no doubt that video content will continue to be popular with New Zealanders looking for at-home entertainment options over the long weeks ahead.

Supporting all customers during COVID-19
Last week we announced a range of measures Vodafone is undertaking to ensure customers can stay online, including removing broadband caps in urban areas and encouraging mobile customers to switch to endless data plans.

We’ve been really pleased by the responses to these initiatives, and a large number of Vodafone staff have been working really hard to make these a reality. We’ve had great feedback on broadband uncapped data, and a significant number of customers have already switched to mobile endless data plans.

Keeping rural customers connected
We have heard similar calls from rural broadband customers also wanting uncapped data. To ensure everyone can get online during the day, we’re unable to lift caps completely – but we’re pleased to now offer unlimited free data overnight, between midnight and 9am. Overnight, we saw 40% higher than usual data usage indicting it’s been well received.

With current rural plans offering up to 200GB/month, this is more than enough for households to prioritise business and educational content during the day – and any heavy downloading of video files can take place overnight.

We do require government support to further increase capacity on the rural networks – with additional spectrum allocation being a quick fix. Longer-term, additional investment into the Rural Broadband Initiative will go a long way to keeping rural customers connected at times of crisis like we currently find ourselves in.

Helping you get the most out of your home or mobile connection
This week the Telecommunications Forum (TCF) provided tips to New Zealanders looking to get the best out of their home networks. This is a great reference guide, and we’ll also be creating additional resources for customers to ensure they stay connected, and have enough data to last the distance. We’ve also compiled tips for rural customers to make the most of their data allowance, which is relevant to anyone looking to manage their data.

Industry collaboration
More broadly, our technology and networks teams are working in tandem with our counterparts at Spark, 2 Degrees, Chorus and Vocus, as well as a number of the other internet providers, to ensure New Zealanders stay connected digitally – even while disconnected physically.

We also thank the TCF for their continued support in all their efforts to respond to COVID-19 as a collective industry.

From all of us here at Vodafone – Stay Safe.

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