Telcos: We’re up for the Covid-19 challenge

Telecommunications firms say they are ready and able to handle an expected surge in activity as millions of New Zealanders prepare for lockdown, Marc Daalder reports

The telecommunications industry says it is ready to handle a surge in internet and phone use as millions of New Zealanders prepare to work from home, despite glitches earlier in the day on Monday that led to frequent outages for many customers.

Geoff Thorn, the CEO of the industry group Telecommunications Forum, told Newsroom any issues with voice calls would be resolved by Tuesday. "We would expect voice call congestion to be resolved tomorrow and things should be much better," he said.

The problem was simple: a massive number of voice calls took providers by surprise. "I think what happened today was there was simply an unprecedented amount of voice calls being made. The level of congestion on the network was huge, I've seen figures of up to a 350 percent increase," he said.

A Spark spokesperson confirmed they had seen a massive increase in call numbers. "Following the Prime Minister’s Covid-19 announcement today telecommunications providers experienced call volumes beyond any level of calling ever seen in New Zealand to date," the spokesperson said.

"This is creating significant congestion for voice calling at an industry-wide level. We are working collaboratively to rectify the issue with urgency."

A Vodafone spokesperson told Newsroom earlier in the day that call numbers were up. "Today’s issue is impacting the full industry and we’re fixing it as a matter of priority, which includes working with other telcos on call interconnects. There has also been a spike in suspected spam calls from overseas numbers, which we’re working to block."

Thorn wanted to reassure New Zealanders that the industry was up for the challenge of millions of people using the internet and phone services from home. In particular, he said, the internet was unaffected.

"There's a different between the data network and the voice network. The internet itself, the broadband access network, has got a lot of capacity. The industry invested in that last year with the rugby world cup. There's a huge amount of capacity for the internet. People working from home is not going to stretch that."

The Spark spokesperson agreed.

"While broadband has seen increases, these have been within manageable volumes. So in the meantime New Zealanders are encouraged to use internet-based calling options such as Skype or Facetime or text applications like WhatsApp."

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