Jeanie York, Virgin Media’s Chief Technology and Information Officer, has shared details of how the UK multiplay operator is managing the challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“To make sure we can keep our customers connected, we forecast demand,” she writes in a blog post. “Our busiest times are normally in the evening when people return from work and stream video content, and we are set up for this – we do it every single day. We design our network to cope with periods of very high demand, including traffic spikes during exceptional events.”
“Almost overnight, millions of our customers are working from home, accessing and sharing files on corporate networks, joining video conferences or accessing online entertainment during periods of self-isolation. This has caused a data use on our network to increase on a daily basis,” she advises.
According to York, traffic across its network is starting to build earlier than usual – starting at about 8am – and remaining higher than usual for both downstream and upstream traffic during the day.
Downstream traffic has increased around 50 per cent during daytime hours but demand is still significantly below levels the operator experiences in the evening peak. “Our network is built to withstand this daily evening peak, and right now is comfortably accommodating this daytime increase,” she reveals. “That’s why we’re continuing to be able to provide the vast majority of our customers with speeds faster than their headline package speed i.e., more than 200Mbps on our M200 product.”
Upstream traffic – including traffic sent by our customers on video calls – has increased by up to 95 per cent during daytime hours. This has largely been caused by more and more people working from home and sending files and data back to corporate networks. This traffic is increasing throughout the day and continuing into the evening, with peak upstream traffic up around 25 per cent on the previous week, showing people are working later or joining conference calls with friends and family. “Our network has ample capacity to handle this increased demand,” she asserts.
“Despite the unique circumstances, we see some familiar patterns,” she notes. “Upstream traffic is dipping slightly at lunchtime as remote workers stop for lunch and again at 5.30PM when people log off for the day. We’re also seeing evidence of people staying at home and social distancing with network demand up at the weekend. Upload data spiked on Mothering Sunday as many families held video calls with loved ones,” she adds.
“Another change we’ve seen over the past week is in the number and length of landline calls. Last week, our landline network saw large growth in demand with voice call minutes up 80 per cent week on week during the morning busy hour, peaking at 10am with around 2.5 million calls per hour,” she says.
“In recent days we’ve seen our customers spend nearly twice as much time on their landline phones in the early evening as they did a week ago, with phone call minutes up by as much as 94 per cent. Meanwhile mobile data use has declined slightly as people spend more time at home,” she reports.
“Despite increased data use on our network, we’re not at capacity and are continuing to provide our customers with the ultrafast and reliable services they expect,” she confirms. “The Coronavirus pandemic has still not pushed up demand to the levels seen during recent computer game releases or when multiple premier league games were streamed simultaneously. While we don’t know exactly what lies ahead, it’s clear that our network is performing a more critical role and we’re committed to playing our part in keeping the country connected,” she concludes.
Meanwhile, Virgin Media is creating more than 500 new customer contact centre jobs in the UK to help keep customers connected during the Coronavirus pandemic.
New jobs are being created at locations across the country on both a permanent and fixed-term basis. This will give new staff job security in the months ahead, as well as creating flexible employment opportunities for people who need to find work in the short to medium term. Roles will be based in Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester and Teeside.
Abby Thomas, Executive Director – Customer at Virgin Media, said: “We’re working day and night to keep the country connected and make sure services are running smoothly. In these difficult times, we’re really proud to soon be welcoming hundreds of new staff to our contact centres who will help us continue to serve our customers.”