Vodafone is handling a huge upsurge in online use and phone calling during lockdown. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Newsroom foundation supporter Vodafone NZ’s Tony Baird provides some insights into how New Zealanders have been using online and their smartphones during the first fortnight of lockdown. 

At Vodafone NZ, we entered new territory in this lockdown as New Zealanders have been turning to their smartphones and devices to stay connected to the outside world.

Overall we’re seeing massive increases in data and voice traffic. To provide an analogy, if the internet was a road we’re consistently seeing anywhere between 20-60 percent more cars join the highway all at once. But our network is built to handle traffic peaks, and our teams are working overtime with lots of late nights on our networks, we’re buying new software and adding extra technology into the mix to avoid online traffic jams.

This has meant some cost-pressures from increased demands on our network, which we’re delivering at no extra charge for the vast majority of our customers who are on fixed price unlimited plans. But more importantly, we want to play our part in New Zealand’s fight against Covid-19 as much as we can and help customers stay connected in this time of need.

Interestingly, our latest analysis shows some new trends emerging in how Covid-19 is changing internet traffic and user behaviour.

Aucklanders and Cantabrians love to chat – and Auckland data use jumps more than other regions

We’re consistently seeing time on voice calls sit at 60 percent higher than pre-lockdown levels, on average. But there are some interesting nuances.

On weekdays, as work takes hold and conference calls replace in-person meetings, Aucklanders are spending the longest, or around 44 percent more minutes on phone calls – while those in Christchurch spend 34 percent more time on the phone. As the least chatty, Kaikoura District locals are spending 7 percent fewer minutes on phone calls during the week.

But this flips on weekends, when Christchurch locals take the turn as the chattiest region spending a whopping 87 percent more minutes on phone calls vs Aucklanders who spend 77 percent more minutes chatting on Sundays compared to pre-lockdown levels. However Kaikoura locals make up for shorter calls during the week, with 71 percent more minutes spent talking on the phone on the weekend.

Correspondingly, SMS messages are down 25 percent, as New Zealanders instead turn to online messaging and voice calls on apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Online data continues to be 20 percent higher across the country – with Auckland skewing a little higher on data use (+22%), vs Christchurch (+19%) and Wellington (+17%).

Daytime entertainment becomes popular

We’re seeing daytime online entertainment increase as Kiwis look to fill their time at home with video streaming.

YouTube and Netflix viewing is around 20 percent higher than usual peaks. During lockdown, YouTube usage ramps up about 9 am and stays high through the day, whereas pre Covid-19 you would see this increase from around 5 pm.

Similarly, now we’re seeing Netflix usage start to ramp up at 11 am, compared to previous times where it would ramp up from around 3pm onwards.

Focusing on what’s important: staying connected

Staying in touch with friends and family, and keeping life as normal as possible during lockdown important. Our Vodafone team created a great video this week showing all the ways that they are using technology to work, life and play online and connect to missing family and friends.

Our technology enables remote connectivity like never before – and Covid-19 has shown everyone that video calls can often be just as good as face-to-face meetings. A side benefit is the environment is thanking us too, with reports showing emissions are going down, which is something we could consider longer-term.

We’ll keep managing the operational and financial impacts that such large increases in data and phone use are placing on our networks, and balance the reduced revenue impacts as we help New Zealand in a time of need.

We hope New Zealanders continue to make the most of online video parties and call loved ones this Easter to ease the pressures of being at home – and from all of us at Vodafone, stay safe.

Vodafone NZ is a foundation supporter of Newsroom

Tony Baird is wholesale & infrastructure director at Vodafone NZ

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