Telstra and Vodafone Should be Prepared for this New Year’s Eve Usage Surge

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With no public holidays left between now and Christmas, the telcos will be in the process of trying to anticipate what’s likely to happen this Christmas and New Year in terms of the demand for their services. You’ll probably also be wondering if your provider is going to do as well this Christmas and New Year as it did last.

With the three main companies actively providing 4G coverage to most of Australia’s population, competition is hot. The festive system is when you and other consumers are likely to use the services the most and you will all be testing the reliability of your chosen providers. The telcos don’t know exactly what is likely to happen as any sudden upsurge in usage, particularly data, can have a tremendous effect on your experience. However, last Christmas and New Year’s Eve fast connections worked favourably for mobile users because the telcos just about got it right. That means you probably won’t have to worry about anything this year either.

Bigger Surge in Demand Expected This Year

The telcos have rarely seen a fall in use over time, so if 2015 to 2016 is anything to go by there is likely to be an even greater surge in network usage from 2016 to 2017. It is expected that the telcos will be well prepared to deal with the sudden influx of use of all the mobile communication tools such as text messages, data usage and phone calls through their apps, Wi-Fi hotspots, and portable cells.

One of the reasons for the hike in usage of mobile services, according to researchers, is the increase in competition between the big 3, Vodafone, Optus and Telstra. These 3 companies have to alter their pricing structures and content of their services to match. Skype and WhatsApp offered last year free calls and texting for those who had signed up to their services. This has also affected the pricing of the major telcos. As you have probably noticed with the widespread upgrading to 4G this has influenced people to use mobile services more and more because it offers such fast connections and downloads.

The Use of Cells on Wheels Makes its Debut

According to Vodafone, the last festive season saw text messages more than double from 1.5 million to 3.2 million per hour between midnight and the early morning of January 1st. If you are a Vodafone subscriber the company was ready for the upsurge and provided more resources and infrastructure which included the use of cells on wheels (COWs), so that their customers throughout the holiday period were able to maintain constant communication.

You may be wondering what COW is. In fact, it’s a portable cellular tower which includes mobile wireless communication equipment that has cellular antennas and electronic radio transceiver equipment. The COW network can be enabled through a variety of means, such as satellite, microwave and wired infrastructure. It is an economical option for a telco in times of need when it wouldn’t be financially strategic to upgrade permanently facilities just for the sake of a short term surge in demand which customarily happens over festive periods. This sort of equipment is sometimes fitted when there is a short term need for superior communication facilities, but its use would then become obsolete because either the event or company no longer has use for the facility.

Leading up to last year’s festive season Vodafone had completed its 850MHz spectrum re-farming in Canberra, Sydney and Queensland, in order to vamp up its 4G coverage and deliver faster speeds for its customers. It also activated its 850MHz 4G coverage to 235 places throughout Queensland. This lower spectrum band has the capability of penetrating buildings, so along with the use of its 1,800MHz spectrum band, the company managed to have at the ready faster and better 4G coverage. With all these upgrades by the New Year, Vodafone had 96% of Australia’s metropolitan area covered by 4G.

Telstra Wins Out Last New Year Too

If you were a Telstra subscriber, the company was also ready for its 11.5 million text messages that were sent over its network from 11pm on the 31st December to 2am on the 1st January. Overall, 900,000GB of data was downloaded over that period, which was double the amount downloaded the previous year. At least 57 million text messages were sent, and nearly 40 million mobile phone calls were made during New Year’s Eve.

The amount of data that was downloaded on New Year’s Eve was equivalent to a single person watching 90 years of high-definition(HD) content without stopping. The reason for this amount of usage is due to people sending numerous photos and videos of celebrations to relatives and friends alike across the globe. Telstra had already earmarked how to face the challenge by encouraging its users to download on to their devices the Sydney NYE Telstra app, which allowed customers who have an Australian mobile number to pre-load fifty text messages. When the bell struck at midnight these were sent for free. This sort of planning helped Telstra know when the upsurge in use was to take place so they could be well prepared.

Telstra did some other wheeler dealing last year, as it gained exclusive rights to streaming the New Year’s Eve fireworks displays in Sydney through the use of its app, its channel on YouTube and its website. The telco filmed the fireworks through the use of a 360o camera rigged up from a number of vantage points, which included the south pylon on the Harbour Bridge. Telstra also encouraged its customers to use Telstra Air hotspots throughout New Year’s Eve. Earlier in 2015 it had turned 2,600 public payphones into Wi-Fi hotspots. As Telstra director Channa Seneviratne for Wireless Network Engineering said after Christmas Day last year it had experienced record data usage and text message use and it was ready for the explosion in usage for NYE.

With all the successes at last year’s festive season the telcos should be well prepared for the inevitable at both Christmas and New Year.


Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.