The past few months of social restrictions have shown just how important connectivity is to keep the nation moving. As we emerge into a brave new world, ensuring fast, resilient and available connectivity is vital for economic momentum. We’re now thinking differently about how and where technology supports Australia’s incredible digital economy.

Lockdown: tackling an unprecedented network event

Security Operations Centre

Connectivity will have an ever-increasing and key nation-building role in the COVID-19 recovery efforts, as we grasp the opportunities the new digital economy will bring.

COVID-19 represents not only an unprecedented public safety event, but an unprecedented network event.

Our fixed and mobile networks, which stretch to more corners of our country and cover more Australians than any other, are massive and complex. On a normal week, we manage the capacity of our networks through various measures to ensure the best connectivity and reliability for our millions of customers. We’ve been doing this for a long time, and we’re proud of how well we do it.

Our team is working hard during the pandemic to ensure our network stays resilient, fast and available for our fixed and mobile customers.

Through COVID-19, voice calls on our national network have increased by as much as 40 percent and the number of mobile network text messages sent has risen by 21 percent.

We normally see a 30 to 40 percent increase in data traffic on our fixed network year-on-year. While we have seen daytime peak traffic on our fixed network increase by as much as 70 percent when compared with pre-COVID traffic, this increase is easily carried.

This increase – mainly in our uplink traffic – can be attributed largely to an increase in video calls used for meetings and schooling. Even still, this represents a small portion of the total traffic on our network.

The industry-wide collaboration between Retail Service Providers, nbn co and various content providers has played a key role in allowing these traffic increases to be absorbed painlessly. Given many people will continue to work and study from home for the foreseeable future, we think it makes sense to extend the 40 percent free allocation of CVCs (the separate volume-based pricing charge) for the locked down geographies for the time being or, as we and others in the industry have called for previously, for nbn co to look at removing the CVC pricing structure altogether.

Changing for the ‘new normal’

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way our country works. A seemingly simple task like returning to the office is littered with new concerns that need to be accounted for. From social distancing in lifts to reconfiguring collaborative working spaces, we need to think differently about everything.

Based on this ‘new normal’ and knowing how vital connectivity is to ensuring a growing digital economy, we’re thinking about how we can help.

At the height of the pandemic, we announced that we would bring forward $500 million of capital expenditure planned for the second half of FY21 into calendar year 2020. This investment will increase capacity in our network and accelerate our rollout of 5G.

It will inject much needed investment into our economy at this time by allowing Australians to work, learn and create remotely, while connecting face-to-face at a COVID-safe distance.

Our 5G rollout started in 2018. With technology designed to provide high-speed, low-latency, high-capacity connectivity, we focussed on deploying 5G in densely populated areas like CBDs, airports and train stations.

A global pandemic, however, means that fewer people can be in those locations. We’re now refocussing some of our 5G investments to deploy into areas that need more network capacity as a priority such as suburbs and regional areas.

This also goes beyond our mobile network. We need to reconsider how Australians work remotely via fixed networks to provide the right technology, the right product, and the right price.

Securing the home-enterprise

The work from home regime will become permanent in some way for many of us and we are working to create the right technology conditions for this permanent setting to be successful.

As enterprises keep their employees working from home for a protracted period, we must consider how that traffic is treated on our network from a security and authentication perspective. This must be tackled at both the enterprise and the home front.

In an age where there are more cyber attacks over home Wi-Fi networks than ever, we need to consider ways to make the burgeoning “home-enterprise user” rapidly more secure through new types of security services.

As we continue to answer these security questions, we’re already rolling out smart security solutions to protect everyone. Our Cleaner Pipes initiative works to actively block cyber threats on our network that would compromise the safety of our customers’ personal information, for example.

This not only helps our consumer-grade customers to stay safe, but also works to keep the new “home-enterprise” customer safe as they work to remotely staff virtual facilities like contact centres and helpdesks.

Pushing to the edge

This fundamental shift in how Australians are working and connecting means we need to radically rethink how network applications are consumed. Thankfully, we’ve been thinking about this for a while with our work on edge-computing: an emerging area of how networks and applications will work in the future.

When you use an application (like a CRM or virtual computer), you can often be limited by the time it takes the network to communicate and action commands. By putting these new applications closer to where they are consumed by users, they will become a lot faster and more distributed than they are today for better performance over ultra-low latency networks like our 5G network. COVID-19 has accelerated the interest in such technology.

Distributing the network capabilities increases speed, security and reliability of an application. Distributing the network applications closer to the edge in multiple locations also cuts down the amount of time someone is disrupted in the event of a network outage.

That’s why our investment to bring better, faster and more reliable network experiences to our customers is an important foundation for the wider digital economy as we all work together to come through the COVID-19 situation as strongly as we can.

Based on nbn traffic.