Why Vodafone's Free Data Weekend Is A Little Scary

Vodafone is making things right after its outage yesterday by giving its customers all the data they can handle, free of charge for the weekend. Does that worry anyone else?

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You may remember back in 2011 that Vodafone struggled with a string of network calamities: calls weren't being placed, SMS messages were being dropped and the latency on data sessions was through the roof.

Nobody was happy, and it led to a mass-exodus of customers from Australia's number three network. It was dubbed "Vodafail", and saw a class action put together of disgruntled customers.

It all started to turn around when the company brought in a new CEO with a billion-dollar mandate to get things back on track. The network was completely retooled, plans were overhauled to be competitive again, new marketing campaigns were outed and Vodafone is now on the upswing once again.

Yesterday saw the first major stumble from the phoenix of Australian telecommunications, as a transmission network failure in Western Australia spread pain across the national network and downed various services for customers until it was restored in the late afternoon.

To make up for faltering, Vodafone's chief technology officer announced a weekend free-for-all: every byte of data used by Vodafone customers from midnight tonight through to 3am on Monday morning won't count towards your plan.

Anyone can attest to the fact that as soon as something is free, people try and grab as much of it as they can. From free cocktail wieners at your local supermarket through to a keychain tossed out at a gig, people go apeshit for free. The only reason people keep coming to the opening of Apple Stores is to get a free T-shirt for God's sake.

So now that Vodafone has promised that people won't be charged for data this weekend, surely we can expect a run on the network. People will likely tether their phones and melt their SIM cards downloading everything from the latest season of Game of Thrones on Google Play right through to downloading what they bought in the Steam Summer Sale. For the record, I plan to do both just to see what happens.

Is it a good idea to open the floodgates on a reasonably new network that won't have seen this much traffic to it in the real world before? You can do volume testing all you want by hitting towers with millions of concurrent users, but things still go wrong in the real world.

In his apology to customers, Voda's CTO assured that the network has been completely rebuilt to handle high usage periods:

Over the past three years we’ve completely rebuilt our 3G and 3G+ networks to ensure you have fast reliable mobile coverage. Last year, we launched a lightning-fast 4G network right around Australia. While no network can guarantee it will not experience issues from time to time, we’re working to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

We'll have to play a nervous game of wait and see with Vodafone's data network over the weekend. Here's hoping it holds up to the strain.

Just think, if it does hold up, it'll be a testament to how far Vodafone has come in two years. Either that or it'll be like that time in The Two Towers when the Ents released the dam back into Isengard.

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