Will the NBN cope with the COVID-19 data demand?

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As tens of thousands of Aussies switch to working or studying from home, and scrap socialising in favour of staying in, it’s almost a given that we’ll turn to our internet connections to get us through the COVID-19 outbreak. But with millions of homes and businesses now connected to the near-completed NBN, will the network be able to cope under the extra pressure?

With Australia now in the early stages of what may be a months-long spell of self-isolation and lockdowns, NBN Co has already confirmed a spike in network traffic. The company recorded an increase in activity of more than 5% on Saturday, 14 March when compared to the previous weekend, showing that many of us have begun to choose a night on the couch over hitting pubs and clubs.

While 5% may seem insignificant now, this figure will undoubtedly rise. With usage guaranteed to explode as more of us opt to stay home, NBN Co has been analysing the impact on other countries dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and working with European collaborators to gauge the potential affect on Aussie networks.

NBN Co commits to increasing capacity

In preparation for the increased demand, NBN Co has announced plans to increase data capacity, work with retailers to optimise performance, and limit non-essential network maintenance and outages.

The company is also taking steps to keep technicians and contractors safe, with on-the-ground crew members now required to take additional hygiene measures like the use of face masks, and re-scheduling installation or maintenance if homeowners are unwell or self-isolating.

A major initiative confirmed by NBN Co is to ‘incrementally’ increase the data capacity allocation available to retail providers such as Telstra, TPG, and Optus. However, NBN Co has advised its resellers not to panic, but to continue to order CVC as usual.

CVC stands for Connectivity Virtual Circuit, and is essentially the charge a provider pays to NBN Co for the amount of bandwidth they wish to make available to customers. The more CVC your telco purchases, the bigger capacity it has, meaning you’ll get  better speeds and performance.

“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.” said NBN Co CEO Stephen Rue.

“We are actively working with retailers and have the complete support of our government stakeholders to ensure we do everything possible to optimise the NBN to support the expected increase in residential use.”

According to NBN Co, its network is engineered to exceed the nightly peak-hour demands placed on the service between 7pm and 11pm. Generally, traffic during these hours doubles when compared to standard business hours of 9am-5pm, but NBN Co is bracing for a potential daytime usage surge in the coming weeks and months.

Which NBN plan is best?

If you’re making the switch to working or studying from home, or plan to spend your free time indoors to protect yourself and others, you may need to upgrade your current broadband plan to avoid slow speeds or lagging performance.

“Most home internet plans are used primarily to download (web browsing, movies, music) and as such have great download speeds.” said NBN Co’s Chief Customer Officer Brad Whitcombe.

“But when it comes to working from home you may have a greater need for uploading large files or joining Skype calls, so speak with your internet retailer to make sure your plan has the upload speeds you need to work from home.”

Customers on lower tier plans (NBN 12 or NBN 25) are more likely to experience issues, particularly with intensive activities such as HD video streaming, making video calls, or sending large amounts of data. If this applies to you, you may want to consider jumping to NBN 50 or even NBN 100 to help congestion-proof your service.

Standard Plus Evening Speed (NBN 50)

There’s plenty of great deals available on the NBN 50 speed tier, including temporary six-month discounts for new customers. You can find a great unlimited data NBN 50 plan for $60 or less a month, depending on your choice of provider.

The following table shows a selection of published unlimited Standard Plus Evening Speed (NBN 50) plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of standard monthly cost, from the lowest to highest, and then by alphabetical order of provider. Use our comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to a referral partner.

Premium Evening Speed (NBN 100)

If you want the fastest speeds most providers have to offer, and you’re happy to pay a little extra, you may prefer to go all-out with NBN 100. Prices for this speed tier begin at the $75-ish mark per month, and most providers offer typical peak hour speeds of at least 80Mbps.

The following table shows a selection of published unlimited Premium Evening Speed (NBN 100) plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of standard monthly cost, from the lowest to highest, and then by alphabetical order of provider. Use our comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to a referral partner.

What about 5G broadband?

5G is considered by many to be a potential NBN killer, but the technology is still in the early rollout stages.

Although 5G is now live in Australia, it’s only available in selected areas. Optus now offers an unlimited data 5G home broadband plan for just $70 per month, while Telstra’s 5G mobile broadband plans begin from $15 monthly for 15GB of data, up to $75 for 100GB (not including your 5G device costs).

If you’re interested in working-from-home NBN alternatives such as home wireless and mobile broadband, you can find out more about 5G and 4G options in our working from home guide.

Image: BublikHaus / Shutterstock

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