Vodafone to add 4 Tbps of capacity to its networks due to COVID-19

While service providers have largely kept up with the networking demands related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vodafone is upgrading its network by 4 Tbps of capacity in order to be ready for the long haul. According to a blog post by Vodafone Group CTO Johan Wibergh, his company has seen six months of forecast demand growth emerge over the past month as more countries have adopted outright quarantines or stay-at-home policies.

Network updates from service providers during the COVID-19 outbreak have become weekly, or even daily, affairs for most of the world's largest service providers, but Vodafone has a unique perspective.

With around one-fifth of the world's internet traffic running across its networks, Vodafone can better gauge the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to its network traffic, Vodafone also does business in Spain and Italy, which are two of the first countries to implement containment policies.

While it remains to be seen whether the U.S. can "flatten the coronavirus curve" through social distancing and other measures, Vodafone's network usage numbers could give U.S. carriers a look at how their network usage will evolve.

Overall, mobile data usage has increased around 15% across Europe in recent weeks, peaking at 30% in Spain and Italy, according Wibergh. Fixed broadband usage has increased by more than 50% in Italy and Spain, which is above most of the numbers that AT&T and Verizon have reported to date.

As more customers work from home, video conferencing has helped increased upstream data flows by as much as 100% in some markets, although Wibergh noted that video conferencing uses far less bandwidth than streaming services going into homes. Downstream traffic has increased by an aggregate of 44%.

Streaming traffic has increased by 40% on mobile and 50% on fixed broadband across Vodafone's European networks as a whole, while gaming traffic has increased twofold on mobile and nearly threefold on fixed broadband. With more people working from home, Vodafone's peak usage time in the evening has lengthened as customers confined to their homes are "moving their social lives online."

"This has put our mobile and fixed networks under strong pressure with evening peaks for mobile increasing by 20% in countries like Italy and Spain and fixed broadband traffic by around 35% in those countries, putting them near capacity during some parts of the evening," Wibergh said. "We have therefore brought forward planned upgrades to add four Terabits per second of additional capacity to our networks during March and April."

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In its cable and fiber networks, Wibergh said Vodafone has upgraded the number and size of interconnection points with other operators, and by the end of April will have the capacity of some streaming provider caches increased by 60%, which will reduce core and international bandwidth consumption.

Wibergh also cited the efforts of Vodafone's technology teams, which are now working from just a few thousand households. In Germany, Vodafone's 5,000 field technicians have decreased repair times by 40%.

"The telecom industry has an important part to play in beating this terrible disease, by enabling Europeans to stay home, work and learn remotely, and stay safe for an extended period," Wibergh said. "I’m pleased with the level of collaboration and commitment from across Vodafone, our industry and our government partners, to work together during this time and keep customers online.   

"So far, our European networks have managed well during this crisis, which in itself is a significant achievement given usage growth. But we recognize that the pandemic is ongoing, with no fixed end, and so we will not be complacent in the months ahead."