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Mobile networks brace for New Year's congestion

With high demand on mobile networks expected on New Year's Eve, the top three Australian carriers will rely on apps and network enhancements to avoid failed calls and text messages at midnight.

To avoid network congestion, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone Hutchison Australia told Computerworld Australia they will temporarily boost capacity near the most popular New Year's Eve sites. All three telcos have been investing significantly in network upgrades.

Telstra predicts its mobile network will carry a record 61 million text messages on New Year's Eve this year across Australia, a Telstra spokesman said. That's 17 per cent more than last year. In addition, Telstra predicts its network will bear 2.6 million picture messages, up 68 per cent from the same time last year, he said.

In a move that could reduce the number of texts sent at the stroke of midnight and improve the likelihood of messages getting through, Telstra has released an app allowing customers to pre-load up to 50 SMS messages to be sent for free at midnight.

The Telstra text messages must be submitted before 6 pm through the Telstra New Year's app.

"As they are written, the app submits these messages as data traffic into the cloud," a Telstra spokesman said. "We then upload these messages directly onto the Telstra Network prior to midnight, for release from midnight."

In addition, Telstra is adding extra network capacity in popular sites.

"We have recently upgraded 12 mobile base stations around the [Sydney Harbour] with additional 3G and 4G mobile coverage," the Telstra spokesman said. "And an extra three mobile base stations will be deployed to the area. We have also installed a temporary site in the Domain to support not only New Year's Eve but the busy summer festival season."

Optus and Vodafone said they are also making network enhancements to avoid congestion.

"During special events like New Year's Eve, Vodafone will boost its capabilities to manage the high volumes of calls, texts and data on the network to ensure it delivers the best possible service during peak times," said a Vodafone spokeswoman.

Vodafone monitors network performance to balance the traffic where required, she said. It can boost capacity in areas with large crowds by using "Coverage on Wheels" units, she said.

"Ahead of each year's NYE celebrations, Optus puts measures in place to boost capacity at the major hotspots around the country," an Optus spokesman said.

"Optus is boosting its network capacity in popular New Year's Eve celebration locations such as Sydney Harbour in Sydney CBD and Southbank in Melbourne CBD," he said. "Capacity upgrades are also being carried out in popular holiday hotspots around the country such as Airlie Beach, Byron Bay, Port Stephens, Surfer's Paradise and along the Murray River, to ensure customers can stay in touch over the New Year period."

Optus recently announced it is testing a cloud-based packet core technology by Connectem that will allow it to quickly boost capacity during high-traffic events. However, an Optus spokesman said the technology will not be ready for use at New Year's events this year.

"New Year's Eve is traditionally one of our busiest periods for mobile network traffic, and this year looks to be no different," the Optus spokesman said. "The Optus Network Management Centre will be staffed accordingly, with a team dedicated to delivering optimum coverage over the New Year period."

Even with preparations, it may be impossible to prevent network problems caused by congestion, said the Telstra spokesman.

"While we do everything possible to enhance the capacity of our network, there will always be times during events such as NYE (especially at midnight) where a customer may have difficulty making calls or sending messages," said the Telstra spokesman, "but this will only be temporary."

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia


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