Keeping the world online during COVID-19

May 27, 2020

4 min read

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When COVID-19 sent workers out of their offices and into their homes, people wanted one thing more than masks, gloves and toilet paper – they wanted data, and lots of it. While we’ve been ensuring the health and safety of our team is our top priority, this explosion in demand for data – which has set new records on an almost daily basis – has seen us working around the clock to maintain our international network during this pandemic.

Our international network sees a dizzying amount of traffic on any given day, but the increase in data being sent back-and-forth during COVID-19 is truly massive. Data demands have spiked significantly, seemingly overnight, by up to 50% on our international networks.

The Mission

Telstra International works to connect the world to Asia, and Asia to the world. We’re proud to have the largest subsea cable network in the Asia-Pacific region, also spanning the crucial trans-Pacific route to connect the world.

Threading more than 400,000kms under the ocean floor, it circles the world almost 10 times. These connections are submerged beneath the waves, meaning that protecting, maintaining and innovating them is a full-time job for our cross-regional team. We’re always striving for better connectivity via subsea cables.

But when the pandemic hit, we realised that we needed to double down on our mission and ensure our network – which provides crucial connectivity for applications and platforms around the world – stays strong, connected and resilient for not only our customers, but our customers’ customers.

We’ve managed to keep our network alive and thriving thanks to the substantial capacity and headroom we have available to cater for unexpected traffic peaks.

Staying connected

The sudden and significant spike in traffic has come from several sources – the upticks in use of video for work, play and education, as well as large-scale Software as a Service (SaaS) adoption from companies moving their businesses online.

We found early on that people wanted to stay informed, entertained and even well-educated. Research by cybersecurity firm, Imperva, found that network traffic increased dramatically for news (+64%); retail (+28%); gaming (+28%); education (+17%), and law/government services (+17%). Meanwhile, there was a decrease in network traffic related to sports (-46%); travel (-42%), and automotive (-35%).

Companies rapidly adopting online tools such as Cisco WebEx and Microsoft Office 365 are particularly keen to ensure their connectivity stays strong during this time, and we’re working hard to enable this pivot.

For example, we’ve upgraded WebEx links to data centres as we experience huge increases in the number of virtual meetings taking place. We have seen WebEx traffic grow significantly and globally, while Cisco traffic in March increased by 66% compared to pre-global lockdown.

We’re also splitting traffic to allow direct access to Office 365 and WebEx without clogging up corporate networks that may not have the headroom we do.

We connect 11 of the top 12 technology companies in the Fortune 500 to Asia. As such, we’re continuing to work hard with all of our relevant partners on increasing capacity within their networks to keep up with the demand and deliver data efficiently. We’ll continue this work post-COVID-19 as businesses continue to change the way they work.

Our people are also working hard across the Asia-Pacific region to enable this boost to our connectivity stack. When the pandemic broke out, our first and top priority was the health and wellbeing of our team. As seasoned workers from home, we were able to quickly move to remote working, with those who couldn’t split into A and B-teams across Hong Kong and Singapore, with one team working in the main Network Operations Centre and the second working in a back-up facility to build resilience in our people as well as our network.

Meanwhile, our cable maintenance ships worked with port operators around Asia to ensure they could continue working on our network at sea. We pre-booked hotel rooms in the region to hold crews for 14-days prior to a ship coming in so that they were cleared to board the ship when it was time to changeover. And to keep ships operational, we used supply vessels to replenish stock at sea.

We’re always ready to roll with changing circumstances to keep the world connected.

The demand for data is unlikely to drop, even as restrictions are scaled back around the world. Our networks are already designed to manage a significant increase in traffic with minimal impact on services, which is critical during times like these.

We’ve assessed the utilisation of our network between countries and continents, as different areas respond in different ways to the pandemic, which allows us to implement business continuity planning to ensure we’re keeping the network performing for everyone who needs it.