The good news: after surging ever closer to its maximum capacity during the first days of the lockdown, NZ broadband traffic has eased this week (see chart below).

The bad: The worst strain on networks is probably yet to come as many schools and universities have taken their holidays early, and won't get back into gear - with intensive online learning - until later this month.

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Last week, as white-collar workers began working from home en-masse, traffic on Chorus's network peaked at 3.03 terabits a second, which Chorus says is the equivalent to 600,000 movies being streamed at once.


The spike in traffic came despite Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube all take steps to reduce their bit rate (25 per cent, in Netflix' case), sacrificing a degree of picture quality to help ease data traffic.

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Before various records were set over the past week amid the lockdown frenzy, the previous high was 2.6Tbps during the Rugby World Cup last year.

Chorus said 3.03Tbps is still "comfortably within" its maximum peak capacity of 3.5Tbps.

But broadband was still up 34 per cent above where it sat before the Covid-19 outbreak, and getting ever-closer to the maximum as people often swapped email or chatting across the office for much more bandwith-intensive video chats - often through home setups that lack the efficiencies of corporate networks - which are getting bandwidth upgrades to better-handle the remote-connection surge, in many cases. The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

Smaller central North Island network operator Ultrafast Fibre reported similar upward trends last week.

But Chorus says peak traffic on its last night peaked at 2.56Tbps yesterday, continuing this week's trend of easing traffic, despite Auckland University beginning online learning.


More strain could be ahead, however, Of the big three universities (by enrollments), the other two, AUT and Massey, have both gone into early semester breaks across their various campuses, and won't kick off online learning until later this month. The same goes for many high schools who opted to take their term-one holiday break early.

While many stocks have been buffeted by the outbreak, Chorus reaffirmed its 2020 earnings guidance last week, and its shares recently hit an all-time high of $7.61 on March 6 amid resiliant demand for broadband, and the promise of a fatter dividend.

It has since pulled back, closing yesteday at $6.89, but is still up 17.3 per cent for the year - although some analysts caution there is regulatory and competive uncertainty ahead.

The government, which progressively bought shares in Chorus as one of the mechanisms for funding the public-private UFB rollout, is currently the largest shareholder with its 57 per cent stake - albeit with non-voting stock.