NBN’s coronavirus test: Network faces increased demand as more Australians work from home

Australia's $51 billion broadband network is facing one of its biggest tests.

Australia's $51 billion broadband network is facing one of its biggest tests. Photo: Ema Osakov

The National Broadband Network (NBN) will be put to the test as a growing number of Australians work or study from home due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, the Morrison government held a “virtual roundtable” with the nation’s major telcos to discuss “COVID-19 preparations, planning and continuity measures in place to support telecommunications services”.

The network is set to experience increased data usage and traffic as a result of people working or studying from home, in a nationwide effort to slow the spread of the virus.

“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,” Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said.

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

Labor’s shadow minister for communications Michelle Rowland said that “consideration should be given to providing retail providers with temporary capacity charge relief” to ease congestion should the network struggle to cope.

“At present, retail providers must purchase Connectivity Virtual Circuit (CVC) capacity from the NBN to support their peak-hour traffic demands, in addition to an access price for the network,” Ms Rowland said.

If COVID19 social distancing measures, such as teleworking and school closures, result in increased peak traffic demand over the NBN, it could lead to congested speeds or higher wholesale costs for retail providers.’’

Ms Rowland said if the need for “temporary and targeted” capacity relief arises, it would be an opportunity for NBN Co to make “a temporary gesture of goodwill in the public interest”.

NBN chief executive Stephen Rue said the telecommunications industry would “work together to keep Australians connected and productive through this crisis”.

“These are unprecedented times and we are already seeing a steady increase in demand on the NBN, and this is set to continue,” Mr Rue said.

“In terms of the expected requests for additional CVC capacity, we will work with the industry to find the best solution. Clearly we all need to play our part.”

The NBN is “part of Australia’s critical infrastructure, and the role of the network has never been more important than now and what we see unfolding over the weeks ahead,” Mr Rue said.

For many Australians, the NBN and other broadband and mobile networks will become the primary channel for work, study, entertainment, ordering food and maintaining contact with the outside world.’’

Rollout deadline looms

The NBN Co has promised to have 8.1 million homes and businesses using the service by the June 30 rollout completion deadline, with 11.7 million ready to connect.

On Monday, Mr Fletcher said the rollout was “94 per cent complete”.

“From this week [the NBN] is expected to surpass 11 million homes and businesses able to connect, providing Australians across the country with high speed, reliable broadband,” Mr Fletcher said.

Last month, Mr Rue said the rollout of the $51 billion national broadband network was “well positioned” to be completed by the middle of the year, and the firm would not be seeking additional taxpayer funds.

However, telecommunications experts have cast doubt on the completion claims, arguing that billions more will have to be spent on upgrading outdated technologies used across much of the network.

NBN Co’s tips for getting the best connection

Get the right speed

  • Not all internet plans that you buy from your retailer are created equal. If your internet is slow it may be because you are on an entry-level internet plan. Call your internet retailer and talk to them about the number of devices you have connected and how you are using the internet to find out if you have the right plan to support your needs.

Get the right plan

  • Most home internet plans are used primarily to download (web browsing, movies, music) and have great download speeds, but are not as strong when it comes to uploading. When it comes to working from home you may have a greater need for uploading files and joining Skype. Speak with your internet retailer to make sure your plan has the upload speeds you need to work from home.

Get optimum performance

  •  Keep your modem in a central location in the home, ideally close to where you’re working from. If it is housed in a cupboard, under a desk, or at the other end of your house this will reduce the speed you receive
  • Some routers may not deliver the best performance and speeds. If you are concerned about the age or quality of your router or modem, seek advice from your internet retailer on possible upgrade options
  • If your internet is down, it could be your Virtual Private Network (VPN) settings that you use to access your corporate intranet and files. Check to see if Google or other websites are working. If they are, you may need to consult with your help desk for remote networking troubleshooting advice.
Topics: NBN
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