Will Australia’s mobile networks crumble this Christmas?

Alex Kidman 23 December 2016 NEWS

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Will massive spikes in usage turn our mobile networks into turkeys?

This time of year is one for indulging in a few silly presents, more hot turkey than really makes sense given the Australian climate and above all, reconnecting with family and friends. That inevitably leads to a spike in the use of telecommunications services, and that’s been the case even back into the era when we all communicated purely by landline phones.

These days the ways we keep in touch are considerably more complicated, but that just means there are more ways to chew into our mobile quotas.

According to research from Telstra across its network, just on Christmas Day alone, Australians will download a hefty 1,1000 TB of mobile data, twice the amount we got through last year. At the same time 59 million text messages will flow across its network and 38 million calls will be made, including 400,000 calls to overseas friends and relatives.

Vodafone’s outlook paints a similar picture. It expects to see international call volumes double on Christmas Day, while data usage on its network will leap 30%. Texts are clearly key to Vodafone customers with the telco estimating a 100% jump in texting up to 3.5 million texts per hour after the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve.

In the telco space we’ve seen more than a reasonable share of outages in 2016, and all this hefty usage does raise the spectre of networks crumbling under the combined weight of all that festive cheer.

Vodafone has signalled that to combat outages at public places where large crowds are expected it will set up what it has dubbing "Red Zones". These will use temporary mobile network cells that, in line with the industry standard, have the single best industry acronym ever. Temporary cells like this are formally Cells On Wheels, which means that to cover the expected surge in usage in high density areas like the Sydney harbour shoreline on New Year’s Eve, Vodafone will be rolling out the COWS.

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COWS aren't unique to Vodafone, as every network uses them for load balancing, so it's fair to assume that popular sites with large inrushes of people, especially around New Year's Eve will be a field of competing COWS, all being milked for their mobile goodness by data, text and call-happy consumers.

For its part, Telstra recently announced that its network of public payphones would be free to use from 24 December through to 28 December for calls to standard Australian landlines and mobiles. So if you do find your mobile unable to connect, it might be time to go back to the past and search out your nearest payphone, no phonecard required.

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