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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Do we have enough broadband capacity?

16 February 2021

Chorus, the main supplier of broadband in New Zealand has a network capacity of 3.5Tbps.

If that capacity is exceeded then obviously things will start to slow down.

Now 3.5 terrabits per second sounds like a lot of bandwidth but is it really enough, now that we're seeing increased levels of "work from home" and a massive growth in online streaming services?

And what happens if that ceiling is hit? Does the speed degrade gradually or do we risk a meltdown caused by such congestion?

Well let's answer the first question... is 3.5Tbps really enough in 2021?

It's starting to look as if the answer is, no, not really.

In this NZH story, it is revealed that

"in late March 2020, at the onset of the first Level 4 lockdown in response to Covid-19, traffic reached 3.03 Tbps per second." [sic]

That's getting pretty close to capacity isn't it?

Fortunately, every-day figures since then have been a lot lower and peaked at about half the available capacity yesterday, reaching a maximum of 1.75 Tbps.

However, what happens if we find ourselves with a national L4 lockdown again?

Odds are that even more people will be engaging in online conferencing, teleworking and streaming video content to ease the boredom. That previous record of 3.03 Tbs could be eclipsed pretty damned quickly -- then what?

We would hope that the network degrades gracefully when pushed to its limits but there are no guarantees. Odds are that long before the total capacity limit is reached, certain areas will run out of bandwidth and deliberate or incidental throttling will start happening.

I would not want to be on the help desk when half of Wellington discover that Netflix is buffering every 20 seconds or so while they are binge-watching their favourite series. Nor would I want to try and telework or video-conference when connectivity converts from a smooth flow of data to a bursty few seconds of data followed by many more seconds of nothing.

So I'd really like to know what contingency plans Chorus has in place to deal with potential network overload and how they will apportion bandwidth if/when this happens.

Can they just flick a switch and boost the available capacity at will -- or would this require major backbone upgrades, something impossible to do in a Level 4 lockdown?

I guess I'm kind of glad I've got a few USB drives loaded with my favourite DVDs just in case the inevitable happens. As for updating my YouTube channels, that could be somewhat more of a challenge.

Now that broadband is really an "essential service", should we have some kind of public declaration from Chorus as to what their plans are to cope with the possibility of overload?

Chorus Responds

Hi Bruce

I saw your article today on Aardvark Daily and thought I’d drop you a line in response to your concerns about Chorus’ network capacity.

The Chorus network is made up of thousands of nodes (switches and routers) and links throughout the country. Our technology team monitors the utilisation of each of these nodes, and internodal links, and adds capacity so that we have at least 50 percent headroom to handle any unexpected events.

Back around the time of Rugby World Cup 2019 (which feels like a long time ago now) we estimated our network was able to support a nationwide peak of about 3.5Tbps. However, we soon realised that releasing a single, fixed nationwide capacity number could be misleading and that a better way to think about it is as a rolling 50 percent headroom with constant monitoring and capacity increases in order to maintain that headroom. We report this monthly to the Commerce Commission.

So, you can be assured that Chorus will continue to maintain a congestion free network in 2021 and beyond and, with this in mind, you can probably file away your USB drives with favourite DVDs!

All the best

Steve

Steve Pettigrew
Head of External Communications

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