Spark says New Zealand network acting like a '7-day weekend'

Broadband usage peaked at 27% above normal levels, while mobile peak traffic is 22% higher.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor
Image: Spark

New Zealand telco Spark has said its network is now seeing what it calls a "7-day weekend", with increasing numbers of people working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the planet.

The telco said its daytime broadband load has almost doubled, with peak broadband demand hitting 27% above normal levels, while mobile peak traffic is 22% higher. Spark added it had the capacity to handle the load.

Some congestion had been experienced on certain mobile towers, but Spark was going to handle it by deploying cells on wheels, or increasing capacity at those towers.

"Normally on a weekday there is a small peak during breakfast that drops back down as everyone heads out for the day. Traffic starts to rise again gradually throughout the day then more quickly as kids return from school. Then there is a dip during dinner time, before usage rises again until the typical evening peak of 9.00pm," Spark technology director Mark Beder said.

"Since we moved into lockdown, usage on weekdays now has a more rounded profile like the weekends -- rising fairly steadily throughout the day.

"Over the first weekend in lockdown, we saw a massive spike in broadband traffic over Friday and Saturday nights, with Friday night hitting a peak higher than during the Rugby World Cup. This was partly due to weekend usage increasing generally as a result of COVID-19, as well as the release of an update for the video game Call of Duty."

Earlier this week, in an effort to lower the impact of game downloads, Steam said it would move to downloading game updates during non-peak hours.

"For games that haven't been played recently, Steam has already been scheduling updates for the next off-peak local time period. Beginning this week, we are now spreading these updates out over several more days. Only games played within the last 3 days will be updated immediately," the company said in a blog post.

Content delivery network Akamai made a similar announcement last week to slow down the speed of game downloads during peak times.

Last week, Aussie Broadband managing director Phil Britt said handling peak evening demand was still the main game for retailers.

"At no point do we expect daytime usage to exceed night-time usage, and all the information we're receiving from overseas is indicating similar," Britt told ZDNet at the time.

"We do expect evening peaks to increase, possibly up to 40% going on international data. Given we already have a customer base skewed towards heavy streaming, we believe we're reasonably well set-up to deal with increased evening load, and we've implemented the extra CVC provided by NBN in preparation."

Spark said last week it had switched 39 of its retails stores to "no-contact emergency distribution centres for essential hardware" where customers could have a SIM swap and get a new handset or broadband modem with a prearranged appointment.

The new arrangements are set to remain in place for four weeks, after which it will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.

Last month the New Zealand telco announced it was removing broadband caps as well as overage and late payment charges for customers. These changes began over an initial 60 day period starting from March 23.

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