NBN Co is giving telcos an extra 40 per cent capacity boost for the next three months in an effort to lighten network congestion as large swathes of the Australian workforce begin to work from home due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Starting next week, NBN retailers will get access to added Connectivity Virtual Circuit (CVC) capacity at no extra cost, thereby giving telcos more network bandwidth for their customers.

NBN has previously described CVC capacity as “the thickness of a pipe that determines the maximum amount of water flowing through”.

NBN Co CEO, Stephen Rue, said he was happy the NBN could do its bit during the coronavirus crisis.

“We’re proud to play our part to keep Australians connected and productive through this crisis,” Rue said.

“Data carriage on the NBN has already increased by around 5-6 per cent over the last few days as customers have increasingly started to work from home.”

The move was welcomed by Labor whch had been lobbying for NBN to provide the capacity relief.

“Connectivity is vital – whether it be for teleworking, telehealth, education or keeping our spirits up with entertainment,” said Shadow Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland.

“This is an example of how industry can work together to support the Australian community during times of crisis. We saw this during the bushfires and I am pleased we have seen it again this week.”

Whole of industry support

Representatives from the telecommunications industry met in a ‘virtual roundtable’ earlier week to prepare coronavirus response plans.

At the time, Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher, was optimistic that networks would be able to handle higher traffic loads.

“Our telcos are quickly responding to the evolving challenges of COVID-19 and have in place business continuity plans to continue to deliver vital telecommunications services,” Fletcher said.

“NBN Co and other industry participants are expecting a change in traffic patterns, with higher traffic levels during the day and increased activity in the suburbs as compared to business districts.

“All of these factors are being taken into consideration with retail service providers in provisioning the network.”

Prior to that meeting, telcos were positive about their ability to maintain service delivery when it is needed most.

Optus’ VP of Regulatory and Public Affairs, Andrew Sheridan, was terse in an email statement to Information Age.

“We know there are going to be bigger demands on our network – and we are prepared for this,” Sheridan said.

A Vodafone spokesperson was a bit more realistic, on the other hand, warning that speeds may suffer occasionally due to the added load.

“Speeds on our mobile and NBN networks may vary as usage patterns fluctuate from normal conditions,” the spokesperson said.

Vodafone also gave some insight into how it has noticed data usage change recently.

“Overall, we are seeing growth in mobile data usage and daily peak throughput, and the number of customers using mobiles for data,” a Vodafone spokesperson said.

“While more customers are using their mobiles during work hours where they live, fewer are using their mobile phones during the typical peak commute times.”

Telstra also said customers might experience a decline in speeds in the coming weeks.

“We have been planning for a range of scenarios and we are confident our networks can be optimised to manage a significant increase in network traffic as a result of people being at home,” a Telstra spokesperson told Information Age in an email.

“Although depending on what eventuates, there may be times when the service is slower than usual.”

Last week, Telstra announced that it was putting its money where its mouth is by enacting its work from home policy for Australian staff starting Monday.

“This unprecedented situation requires decisive action, and it’s important we are flexible and ready to adapt to this evolving situation,” said Telstra executive Alex Badenoch.

“Getting ahead of things now will mean we are prepared should the issue escalate quickly.”