Network transformation helped Spark seamlessly shift Kiwis into remote work

It's the envy of all Australians when New Zealanders are claiming home networks are better than corporate ones.

When New Zealand went into lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation saw a drastic shift in network usage, with daytime use looking awfully like it was 9pm for an entire day.

With telco Spark previously calling this a 7-day weekend, its daytime broadband load almost doubled in April, with peak broadband demand hitting 27% above normal levels, while mobile peak traffic was 22% higher.

See also: Spark warns of larger COVID impact to New Zealand telco in coming year

Spark New Zealand head of IT infrastructure Siddharth Kumar on Thursday said the telco could handle it, thanks mostly to preparations it had already made around modernising its infrastructure and how that investment during COVID-19 had, in a sense, paid off.

"The changes that we saw was around the workload distribution, what use to be our peak broadband traffic … that shifted completely during the day when we had work from home scenarios all across the country," he said, speaking with media on a panel hosted by VMware.

"We could see peak traffic not [only] during the night but during the day and that's when the decisions that we took some time back around the past year on how do we scale out, all of that started paying back because we could spin up infrastructure as needed for a variety of workloads, how they were changing."

Kumar said shifting contact centres to all remote work was an "interesting scenario".  

"We could see that there's no more building-based contact centres for us, everyone was working from home, which we had trialled way long back with our agents at home working -- but that was a small number," he said. "But we were set up … not at that scale, but it helped."

With preparations already in place, Kumar said everything moved faster.

With the company responsible for rolling out the National Broadband Network in Australia on Wednesday committing to having more fibre rolled out, Kumar was asked how important fibre infrastructure was in New Zealand's network when it came to its COVID-19 response.

"There's no doubt about it from fibre vs any other technology, fibre is going to be more modern in terms of how -- whatever we use, whether its streaming, video -- wireless will catch up, absolutely it will with 5G coming and there is a huge, huge change that will happen," Kumar said. 

"So fibre was important but equally important was all other methods of access.

"Where it was not possible, we also started working on a wireless plan, how do we provide wireless broadband to those locations where there is no fibre -- it's a multi-pronged approach, but I think fibre is a key to any national infrastructure, absolutely."

See also: Backflip to the home: NBN to upgrade FttN areas with fibre

Speaking of the experiences Spark's customers have had, Kumar said many were reporting a smoother work environment from their loungerooms.

"When lockdown was over, when people started going back to buildings … the network couldn't cope, because the office network wasn't designed for video conferencing, but from home -- they were saying they have a better network at home than in the office … that was a question for upgrading networks on the enterprise side," he added.

Touching on the greater telco transformation piece, Kumar said the sector is now catching up to where IT was a decade ago.

"What we are also seeing is a difference in the telco world … IT went through a virtualisation piece roughly 10 years ago when it started picking up a lot, telco is going through that now. 

"The telco world was mostly OEMs and now … telco is saying now that convergence of what we are seeing of how IT and telco workloads can co-exist is new to us, that is what the challenge that we will have around how do we ensure that both IT and telco will work, whatever their requirements are -- and they're completely different requirements," he said.

"There is an inherent nature of the telco workload that it has to be completely reliable and resilient, you wouldn't want your mobile call to have a delay, while you may be fine with that on a VOIP call, like WhatsApp, you have an expectation that your mobile call will not have a delay."

The way to fix that, Kumar said, is to automate the network.

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