As it battles with the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, UK cable network provider Virgin Media has taken steps to assure users of the fundamental strength of its service in the face of unprecedented strain and usage patterns.
Virgin said an intrinsic part of its basic job of keeping customers connected is to forecast demand. It noted that normally, its busiest times have been in the evening when people return from work and stream video content and that it has designed its network to cope with periods of very high demand, including traffic spikes during exceptional events.
But now, almost overnight, millions of customers have begun working from home, accessing and sharing files on corporate networks, joining video conferences or accessing online entertainment during periods of self-isolation. This extra usage is also generating new patterns in data usage across the network.
Virgin said traffic across its network is starting to build earlier in the day than usual – starting at about 8am – and is remaining higher than usual for both downstream and upstream traffic during the day.
It said downstream traffic has increased by about 50% during daytime hours, but total demand is still significantly below levels experienced in the evening peak, which the network was built to withstand, and said it is “comfortably accommodating” daytime increases.
Upstream traffic – including traffic sent by our customers on video calls – has so far increased by up to 95% in daytime hours, caused largely 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 continues into the evening, with peak upstream traffic up about 25% on the previous week, showing that people are working later or joining conference calls with friends and family.
Virgin issued an assurance that its network has ample capacity to handle this increased demand.
The company said it is also seeing evidence of people staying at home and social distancing, with network demand up at the weekend. Upload data spiked on Mothering Sunday (22 March) as users held video calls.
Yet despite the unique circumstances of the coronavirus outbreak, Virgin observed some familiar patterns, with upstream traffic dipping slightly at lunchtime as remote workers stopped, and again at 5.30pm when people logged off for the day.
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Another change it has seen over the past week is in the number and length of landline calls. The company said that in recent days, it has seen 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%.
There was a commensurate dip in mobile data use as people spent more time at home. In the week beginning 16 March, Virgin’s landline network saw large growth in demand, with voice call minutes up 80% week on week during the morning busy hour, peaking at 10am with about 2.5 million calls an hour.
The bottom line when it comes to technology is that despite increased data use on the network, the coronavirus pandemic has still not pushed up demand to the levels seen during recent computer game releases or when multiple Premier League football matches were streamed simultaneously.
To support operations in this new business environment, in which it is receiving very high customer call volumes, Virgin said it is creating more than 500 new customer contact centre jobs in the UK to help keep customers connected. New jobs are being created at Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester and Teesside, both permanent and fixed-term roles.
Virgin Media said it is taking steps to fast-track the application and assessment process by using video interviews, which will dramatically reduce the application processing time and allow new staff to start work within weeks.