When asked what to expect during New Year's weekend, everyone from industry analysts to major corporations to the federal government has been saying the same thing: "No one knows for sure." This sentiment is particularly true in the area of telecommunications, where infrastructures may be swamped by heavy call volume in the early hours of New Year's Day 2000 as the celebratory, the concerned, and the curious alike pick up the phone to make calls or simply check the dial tone. A number of long-distance and local carriers have issued statements throughout the week cautioning their customers not to panic if their first phone call of the new year does not go through.
Bell Atlantic, which has more than 43 million telephone access lines and nearly 10 million wireless customers worldwide, said today in a prepared statement that it does not expect "significant network congestion" during New Year's weekend. The company recommends that customers whose calls do not go through on the first try on New Year's weekend should hang up and simply try again later.
New Year's Day does not generally produce high volumes of traffic on AT&T's long-distance network, according to an AT&T spokesman. Using the past as an indicator, AT&T's network is likely to see increased activity for the five to 10 minutes after midnight on the East Coast, then another slight increase at 1 a.m. as the Central time zone rings in the new year. "We recommend to all AT&T customers not to pick up the phone at midnight to test check for dial tone," the spokesman says. "This will overload the local network, which is not designed to handle all of AT&T's customers at once."
AT&T's long-distance network handles about 280 million voice calls and 75 to 80 terabytes of data per business day. Although AT&T makes no predictions about expected caller activity this New Year's Day, volume for New Year's Day 1999 was 131 million calls, or less than half that of a normal business day.
A spokesman for Sprint points out that the lack of business traffic on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day generally helps keep call volume from overwhelming its long-distance network. Heavy traffic on the phone lines is a problem that "solves itself" as call volume evens out, the Sprint spokesman says, adding, "Just because you don't get dial tone just after midnight doesn't mean there's a problem."
MCI WorldCom reports that while its call volume is generally up 19% on New Year's Day, the company makes no predictions as to what it will reach this weekend and has no plans to install equipment to handle spikes in traffic early in the morning of Jan. 1.
One analyst sees the early-morning hours of New Year's Day as a challenge to caller restraint rather than to the existing telecommunications infrastructure technology. Says George Peabody, managing director of telecommunications research for Aberdeen Group: "There's likely to be a big spike shortly after midnight on New Year's, but if call volumes get too high, the callers are likely to be met with a fast busy signal until things calm down."