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Chorus names new fibre sites

Chorus names new fibre areas, what the telco sector learned from Cyclone Gabrielle, PC slump continues
Chorus kicks off 2024 fibre extension build in South Auckland.
Chorus kicks off 2024 fibre extension build in South Auckland.

Chorus names fibre expansion sites

Chorus says it will extend its fibre network to reach another 10,000 premises. This is the first official move that takes the network beyond areas covered by the government's Ultrafast Broadband programme and the rural extensions.

Around 1.8 million premises or roughly 87 per cent of the population are connected to existing fibre networks.

The company says its extensions will reach 49 communities across New Zealand. This includes parts of Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill, Nelson and Upper Hutt that are not yet connected.

New regional coverage is planned for parts of Clutha, the Far North, Grey, Hastings, Hauraki, Horowhenua, Kaipara, Marlborough, Matamata-Piako, New Plymouth, Rotorua, Ruapehu, Selwyn, South Waikato, Southland, Thames-Coromandel, Waimakariri, Wairoa and Whangarei.

At first the company will target low-hanging fruit: sites close to the existing network. Apart from making economic sense, this is good politics: it can be frustrating for users who are near misses for the existing fibre network.

Chorus says the work will be completed by the middle of next year.

The option to extend further remains, but Chorus is a business, not a publicly owned utility. Any build has to be economically justified. While high fibre uptake rates help, Chorus has made it clear that it would need some form of government intervention, most likely regulatory change. The company faces a higher regulatory bar than New Zealand's other fibre wholesalers and the rules inhibit additional investment.

One year after Cyclone Gabrielle

In a blog post at the New Zealand Telecommunications Forum website, CEO Paul Brislen writes about the work that's been done to prevent the widespread outages following last year's
Cyclone Gabrielle.

The TCF is both the voice of the telecommunications sector and the coordinator of industry-wide projects, including the review of network resilience.

Cyclone Gabrielle was unprecedented. It took out cell towers, but more seriously it cut the cables connecting the affected regions.


Brislen says: "Most of the damage to fibre during the cyclone came from an unexpected source – forestry slash, which was exacerbated by many of the thousands of slips seen across the region." This took down bridges. Fibre lines use road bridges to cross rivers.

Much of the work to minimise the impact of future outages has focused on single points of failure. Brislen says:

"Our members have been particularly focussed over the past year on eliminating single points of failure where possible, adding alternative fibre routes for traffic as well as satellite technology as back up backhaul for mobile cell sites."

Other work includes a collaboration between Next Generation Critical Communications (NGCC), Spark and One NZ. This gives emergency responders automatic roaming. If one network fails, emergency service providers are automatically connected to the other network. Changes being made now mean their calls will be prioritised if mobile networks are congested or otherwise degraded.

Meanwhile Chorus has been adding alternation fibre routes into regions and districts. It has re-engineered the network in places, raising cables higher to make them more resilient to severe weather.

Satellites have a role to play. The mobile companies now have agreements that mean they can backhaul when terrestrial lines are down.

Many of the telecommunications problems during Cyclone Gabrielle were because of power failure. Brislen says the mobile companies are upgrading site batteries as they reach end of life. At the same time, the carriers are improving power management by reducing the services offered from each tower during an emergency.

PC shipments continue to fall, IDC sees glimpses of future growth

Research company IDC says PC sales did marginally better than expected in the last quarter of 2023. Shipments were down 2.7 per cent on a year earlier. It was the eighth quarter in a row that shipments declined.

Despite this, IDC optimistically says the "market contractions appear to have bottomed out and growth is expected in 2024."

Taken as a whole, shipments fell 13.9 per cent in 2023. This follows a drop of 16.5 per cent in 2022. These are the biggest drops in the industry's history.

While the long term trend has been down, there was a recovery during the first years of the Covid pandemic. Looking back it appears those extra sales were nothing more than bringing sales forward.

Satellite operators band to boost direct to device services

This month saw the launch of the Mobile Satellite Services Association. It aims to "accelerate the emergence of direct-to-device (D2D) services for use by businesses and consumers".

Founding members are ViaSat, Ligado Networks, Terrestar Solutions, Omnispace and Al Yah Satellite Communications Company. None of these have high visibility in New Zealand.

The idea is to build an open standards-based interoperable framework. To make this happen they need to get mobile phone makers onside, which in effect means Apple and Samsung, no-one else matters. They also need buy-in from chip companies, governments and mobile carriers.

In other news...

Media reports (multiple sources) say Volt Typhoonm a group of Chinese government-backed hackers (or should that be semi-official spies?) infiltrated US plane, train, water and telecommunications systems five years ago. The hack includes other strategic targets such as satellite networks. Dragos, a cybersecurity company, says the level of penetration is picking up. You can take it as read similar activity is targeting New Zealand strategic infrastructure. The Guardian has useful background on Volt Typhoon.

Networking giant Cisco is sacking about 4000 workers, around 5 per cent of its workforce. Investors were not impressed, the share price dropped 9 per cent on the news. Cisco reported a strong second quarter result, but its forecast is not promising.

Earlier in the week I wrote about Australia's Right to Disconnect Law. The likelihood of a similar law in New Zealand would be zero during this Parliament.

At the ITP's Techblog Peter Griffin covers One New Zealand's fight over staff working from home. He writes:

"Telecommunications provider One NZ has bought a bizarre fight with staff over its desire for them to return to the office for at least three days a week, up from two days under its previous policy.
"One’s small cohort of 112 unionised employees are pushing back against the edict, with the Unite Union in mediation with One NZ on this issue and an unresolved pay claim. One NZ is a digital-first company that benefited from the massive move to remote working in 2020 with the arrival of Covid-19."

Bizarre is the correct word here. One NZ's customers will include thousands of people who successfully and productively work from home.

The Washington Post has an interesting look at the United States government's push for Open Ran. The story is behind a paywall. The project started as a potential alternative to Huawei's mobile network dominance, but along the way is making life tough for other equipment makers including Ericsson and Nokia.

The Download Weekly is supported by Chorus New Zealand.