Staying connected in uncertain times

by Brendan O’Reilly, CTO, O2

We are living through an extraordinary period, one that provides great uncertainty amongst all walks of life. The situation is incredibly fluid and changing every day as we follow the government guidelines and adhere to their advice. I wanted to explain to you exactly what we’re seeing on the O2 network and what we are doing to respond to the ever-changing situation.

At O2, we realise that more than ever people are relying on our network to connect them in a range of ways – to colleagues, utilities and most importantly, loved ones. Never more so. We recognise this responsibility and are working tirelessly to ensure our mobile network stands ready to support our customers at a time when connectivity is more important than ever.

Our engineers are working around the clock to give our customers the connectivity they need to maintain vital contact with the outside world as many of us remain at home, and this is a key customer behaviour that has understandably changed since the advent of the pandemic.

Shifts in human behaviour lead to shifts in network traffic so as a team, we’ve rapidly adjusted our focus not only to respond, but also to anticipate our customers’ new needs. Our data network traffic has remained relatively stable during the pandemic, although obviously, customers are using data in different places that they usually would. The biggest shift in behaviours that we’ve seen is an unprecedented surge in voice traffic.

Since March 16th we have seen approximately 57% more voice traffic at the busiest point of the day. Typically voice traffic increases 5% year on year, and in a week we have experienced an increase of voice traffic comparable to nine years of regular demand. We have been working tirelessly over the last two weeks, and have doubled the capacity of our voice network to accommodate all of this new traffic. This extra capacity has alleviated any initial congestion and we will monitor this and increase the capacity further if the need arises.

This shift shows that as a country we are talking much more. On average customers are speaking to each other for approximately 40% longer. In these worrying times, it’s comforting to know that a medium that was becoming less popular with the huge proliferation of data services, is actually as important as ever.

And traffic patterns are changing as well. Previously our voice traffic peak has been at 6pm but over the last few days, we are seeing a shift to around 11am-12pm, possibly as children connect and learn in new ways online and people work from home during the day.

As we reach the end of this first week of this ‘new normal’ and we all adjust to a new way of working and learning, we are starting to see this new traffic level plateau. However, I want to reassure you that we continue to work day and night to maintain network service and resilience. In these challenging times our number one priority is making sure that our network is available, reliable and that our customers remain connected.