Telstra, Vodafone prepare for New Year's Eve network traffic jump

Vodafone will make use of cells on wheels while Telstra taps into its mobile app and Wi-Fi network to handle the increase in network traffic during NYE.

New Year's Eve causes a substantial growth in traffic across telecommunications networks each year, with Telstra and Vodafone Australia preparing to deal with the influx of data usage, text messages, and phone calls through apps, Wi-Fi hotspots, and portable cells.

According to Vodafone, text messages will more than double during NYE, from 1.5 million per hour to approximately 3.2 million per hour between midnight and the early morning of January 1.

Vodafone is planning to utilise portable cells to deal with the flood of calls and messages on New Year's Eve, according to Vodafone CTO Benoit Hanssen.

"Vodafone will also roll out extra resources and infrastructure, known as cells on wheels (COWs), over the holiday period in order to ensure customers have a smooth experience when connecting with family and friends over the festive season," Hanssen said.

COWs will be positioned by Vodafone at popular fireworks vantage points in Sydney, including Dawes Point and Mrs Macquarie's Chair.

"Our engineers will also be monitoring key sites and making adjustments as required, which will ensure an optimal network experience for our customers," said Hanssen.

Hanssen claimed that handling the New Year's Eve traffic would be a good opportunity for the telco to showcase the effectiveness of its network investment throughout 2015.

"In the last 12 months, we have completed the re-farming of our 850MHz spectrum in Queensland, Sydney, and Canberra to bolster our 4G coverage and deliver faster speeds for our customers," said Hanssen.

Vodafone refarmed its 850MHz spectrum band to extend capacity in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this month, switching it on in 91 sites, as well as refarming an additional 5MHz band of its 850MHz spectrum on the coast of New South Wales and the eastern edge of the Blue Mountains. Last month, Vodafone also switched on 850MHz 4G in 235 sites across Queensland.

The low spectrum band penetrates buildings more effectively than higher bands, working alongside the 4G provided through the 1800MHz spectrum band to provide better and faster coverage, the telco explained.

Vodafone's 4G network reaches 96 percent of the metropolitan population of Australia, with the telco upgrading more than 1,000 sites as part of its 4G network enhancement.

Telstra, meanwhile, is predicting 11.5 million text messages to be sent across its network between 11pm on December 31 and 2am on January 1. In total, it is forecasting almost 900,000GB of data to be downloaded -- twice the amount downloaded last year -- as well as 57 million text messages to be sent, and 39 million mobile phone calls to be made during New Year's Eve.

Telstra director for Wireless Network Engineering Channa Seneviratne said Christmas Day saw a record amount of data used and messages sent, with NYE to eclipse that.

"The explosion in mobile usage and the increasing access to high-speed 4G technology have created more ways for people to connect," Seneviratne said.

"The amount of data we predict to be downloaded on New Year's Eve is the equivalent of one person continuously watching 90 years of high-definition content, which is a fair load for the network to carry. That means a lot of videos and photos capturing the celebrations."

Telstra is planning to deal with the network traffic increase by encouraging its customers to download and use the Sydney NYE Telstra App, which enables users with Australian mobile numbers to pre-load 50 text messages that will be automatically sent by Telstra for free at midnight. Such a system will help Telstra to know where and when the traffic influxes will occur.

Telstra also scored the exclusive telco rights to stream the 9pm and midnight fireworks through its app, on its website, and across its YouTube channel. The telco will film the fireworks using a 360-degree camera rig from several vantage points including the Harbour Bridge's south pylon, with the footage to be released in the early hours of January 1.

Two weeks ago, Telstra announced that it would be making its AU$100 million national Wi-Fi network, Telstra Air, free for mobile and home broadband customers for the next six months.

For NYE, Telstra is encouraging its customers to make use of these Telstra Air hotspots while out at new year celebrations.

When making the announcement, the telco said the free Wi-Fi is a timely offer, as data usage would jump over the Christmas, new year, and summer holiday period.

"We're tipping customers will use the data equivalent of sending more than 50 million high-quality photos to post, browse, share, and stream on our Wi-Fi network over summer," said Neil Louis, head of Telstra Wi-Fi.

"We're putting the finishing touches on a massive upgrade of our mobile network in more than 70 holiday hotspots across the nation."

Telstra launched its Wi-Fi network in June this year, after turning 2,600 of its public phone booths into Wi-Fi hotspots.

In October, Telstra CEO Andrew Penn committed to rolling out Telstra's 4G network to 99 percent of the Australian population by June 2017, with the company to invest AU$5 billion in its networks over the three years until then.

"We will also start rapidly deploying the next generation of LTE technology, including voice over LTE, LTE Broadcast, and the next stage of LTE Advance, which is delivering peak network download speeds of up to 600Mbps," Penn said.

"By leveraging our superior spectrum holdings, we will create new levels of coverage and performance leadership for 4GX."

Telstra began switching on parts of its 700MHz 4GX network in 2014, rolling out the network across Australia. Telstra confirmed in August that a 5G network will also be launched by the end of the decade in collaboration with Ericsson. The network is expected to provide speeds of up to 10GB per second.

Telstra and Ericsson also announced in November that they had attained speeds of 1Gbps during live commercial 4G mobile trials by aggregating five spectrum bands in a world first. This was followed in December by Ericsson, Telstra, and Qualcomm announcing a demonstration of 4x4 spatial multiplexing MIMO combined with 256 QAM, which they claimed established the foundation for commercial network download speeds of up to 1Gbps.