Chorus clocks another broadband usage record – but are we getting too close to the ceiling?

Since the first lockdown last year, our broadband use has hit a series of new record highs.

We’ve just hit another, but are getting uncomfortably close to the ceiling?

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Everyday internet has increased about a third over this time last year as the work-from-home trend has seen more people adopt more broadband-intensive software like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack – and persist with such cloud tools after they return to the office or move to a hybrid work week. And viewing via bandwidth-hogs like Netflix and Disney+ continues to climb.

Throw a snap lockdown on top of that, plus a one-off spike caused by something like a big game release or a key cricket game only available via Spark Sport stream (or all three, as we had on March 4 as traffic on Chorus’ network peaked at 3.15 terabits per second) and it’s a recipe for another record broadband spike.

And on Tuesday night, Chorus said it hit a new all-time high of 3.1Tbps – which the network operator pinned on a major update to the popular multiplayer game Fortnite (the Chapter 2, Season 6 update of the killing-fest, to be precise).

While it’s good to see Kiwis embracing the most modern cloud software for work, play and keeping in touch, we’ve also been getting closer to Chorus’ ceiling.

But happily, Chorus has confirmed it’s raised the roof, so to speak.

“While a throughput ceiling of 3.5Tbps was advised in advance ofRugby World Cup, we’re continuously adding capacity and currently estimate we can handle a nationwide peak of at least 4.5Tbps without experiencing any congestion issues,” a Chorus spokeswoman said this morning.

That should be enough for a snap lockdown, major game release, a Kane Williamson hit-out and a tsunami warning on the same day.

We’ve also got more headroom, overall, because some 221,000 households are now on fixed-wireless, according to a new Commerce Commission report.

Fixed-wireless is where fast internet is delivered to a home or workplace for a mobile network (then shared among devices by wifi), cutting Chorus out of the loop.

The regulator said that fixed-wireless connections slowed up to 25 per cent during the first lockdown, according to testing, while fibre held steady – a result that Chorus has already seized on.

Fixed wireless market leaders Spark and Vodafone, however, are looking to their 5G mobile network upgrades to super-charge their wireless broadband services.

With the ComCom’s Annual Telecommunications Monitoring Report 2020 showing our broadband and mobile use increasing sharply, and the amount we collectively pay falling by 4 per cent, it seems that consumers are the winners in this broadband arms race – at least if they live in a town centre.

Whether you’re getting good bang for your buck depends in part where you live, technology commentator Paul Brislen told the Herald earlier this week.

“New Zealand is now a tale of two halves – in the cities and main centres we largely have telecommunications pricing under control and it’s mostly a commodity service. We no longer have to think too much about it and just get on with using it.

“But for rural New Zealand, we have a different situation and one that needs addressing sooner rather than later. Slower speeds, higher prices and lower data caps are a major impediment to our rural communities’ success.”

South Islanders will shortly have a new option as Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite broadband service – which is offering unlimited data – launches for the region.

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