24 Mar 2020

Coronavirus: Surge in calls after New Zealand lockdown announcement

11:31 am on 24 March 2020

A huge spike in mobile calls yesterday led to phones across the country cutting out or not connecting at all.

Close up of a man using mobile smart phone

(File image). Photo: 123rf

In the wake of the prime minister's announcement on a lockdown due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, a surge of voice calls overloaded the networks.

Telecommunications company Spark says it was beyond any level of calling ever seen in New Zealand.

Geoff Thorn is chief executive of the Telecommunications Forum, which represents carriers including Spark, Vodafone, and 2degrees.

He told Morning Report the response to the announcement was unprecedented.

"We saw a huge spike in the number of voice calls, and there was some congestion between the companies and the interconnection, there was a lot of work put in by the companies working together to solve that."

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

He said the industry had made investments over the years in their networks, particularly for data due to demand.

"I would expect that the number of voice calls would start to come down, the industry certainly has a lot of capacity and has made a lot of investment, and I don't think it will be a problem with people working from home.

"The retailers have done all of the right things, by getting rid of data caps to make it easy for people, some of them are indicating they won't do disconnections for late payments, some of them are waiving late payment fees."

He said people usually understood that texting was the way to go in natural disaster situations, but yesterday people went for their instinct and picked up the phone.

Messaging apps and texting was the best option if you could not get in touch with people, he said.

"There may be times where people do find the internet slows down a bit - simply because there's congestion on one part or a handover or something like that, but in general people will be able to keep in touch, certainly using Over The Top apps."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs