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Bill Bennett


It’s official: Fibre overtakes copper in New Zealand

At the end of September, fibre companies had 880,000 premises connected to their networks. There were 581,000 copper connections. Fibre connections were up 31 percent on the year earlier. Copper connections were down 23 percent.

These numbers come from the Commerce Commission’s Annual Telecommunications Monitoring Report. Last year fibre officially overtook copper as New Zealand’s connection technology.

This happened a couple of months before the first phase of New Zealand’s UFB fibre build was completed. When the project started a decade earlier the plan was to have 20 percent of connections. The planners thought fibre overtaking copper would happen sometime in the distant future.

Commerce Commission Monitoring Report - Fibre overtakes copper

Fixed wireless broadband

Fixed wireless broadband is also up. It climbed 14 percent in the year to September 2019 to reach a total of 188,000 connections. What the Commerce Commission does not reveal is that Spark back-pedalled on fixed wireless sales in the run up to the Rugby World Cup. Without that, the growth would have been higher.

Telecommunications Commissioner Dr Stephen Gale says; “New Zealanders are increasingly moving to the fibre broadband network. This trend is set to continue with nearly three-quarters of a million homes and businesses yet to switch in areas where fibre is available to be connected”.

There’s a curious section in the media statement about broadband prices. Gale says; “…Prices for a medium use fixed-broadband plan (150GB/30Mbps) and voice bundle have remained at $75 in 2019. As the OECD average price has dropped since last year, New Zealand is now more expensive than the international average.”

Well yes, but the plan in question is a strange one to choose. Few New Zealand customers have 30Mbps plans and the most popular plans have unlimited data. You can buy an uncapped gigabit fibre plan for $85 a month. I’ve no international comparative data to quote, but this is lower than the average price around the world.

Competitive mobile plans

Elsewhere in the report the Commerce Commission notes New Zealand’s mobile plans remain competitive by international standards.

Gale says; “New Zealand’s mobile plan prices are below the OECD average for all plan types we measure. For instance, a medium use plan of 100 calls and 2GB of data costs $28, 24 percent below the international average”.

NZ mobile phone prices compared with international

The Commerce Commission also looks at telco market share. It notes smaller companies are growing their share of fixed broadband at the expense of the big names.

“Increased competition in the market is good for consumers. In the past year we’ve seen encouraging signs with small retailers like MyRepublic and Stuff Fibre growing their market shares. Overall, smaller retailers’ market share grew from 8 percent to 11 percent in 2019, with customers largely being wooed over from Spark and Vodafone.”



30 thoughts on “It’s official: Fibre overtakes copper in New Zealand

  1. The fact that the copper network is still in place is another example of bad economics. It means that there’s entire second network that we have to pay to maintain. And, yes, it is us paying to maintain it.

    As fibre was rolled out the copper should have been taken out and given to the recyclers. This would have had the benefit of having fibre cost less per household as economies of scale improved, decreased the cost of network maintenance as the superfluous network was removed and, finally, improved communications across the country.

    The fact is that this dis-economics was brought about by the government wanting to keep the ‘cheaper’ option available for poorer people. The problem being that doing so prevents the best economies of scale for fibre and the fact that copper isn’t cheaper. In fact, all evidence that I’ve seen is that its more expensive to maintain which means that the fibre network gets to subsidise the copper network and, as the copper users goes down, the subsidies go up.

    Another great example of competition costing more.

  2. Although that’s about half the average amount of data, it’s not far from the mean. Slower speed would help keep data consumption down too. There aren’t many on 30mbps these days, it’s not the standard by a long shot



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