It’s no secret that, for most New Zealanders, broadband is world class. Our UFB network was always a good thing. It proved its worth again since the Covid–19 forced large numbers to work from home.
Fibre is by far the best technology for these times. 1 It is reliable and has ample bandwidth. Most homes have enough capacity for people to work and hold video conference meetings while others watch streaming video.
A 100 mbps plan is plenty for working from home. No applications demand more bandwidth. You could run half a dozen separate video conferences and still have headroom to play with.
Get a gig
Yet gigabit plans cost only a few dollars more. Unlimited data plans are affordable too. Few starting today sign up for less than a gigabit connection with unlimited data.
This combination can cost as little as $80. Taking inflation into account that’s often less that we paid for dial-up or ADSL. If money is short, there are cheaper fibre plans.
We got to this point because a dozen years ago politicians from both main parties went into an election promising a fibre network.
An earlier generation of industry reforms forced Telecom NZ into operational separation. As part of that process, it build a fibre to the node network. This made building fibre to the home easier.
Lucky first time
Were we lucky? Well, we were in the sense that everything needed to get to this point converged at the right time. Although it may not have seemed like that back then.
This was in 2009. The 2008 Global Financial Crisis was still a threat.
In the November 2019 edition of the Download magazine I interviewed Sir John Key and Steven Joyce about the original UFB plan. Times were tough. A fibre laying infrastructure project was part of the plan to get New Zealand back on its feet.
As Sir John says:
“UFB was an ambitious programme. We executed it really well. You can contrast this with the NBN (National Broadband Network) in Australia. I spend a lot of time in Australia and the Australians are jealous that we delivered this fantastic outcome while they are still battling.”
The events of recent weeks have only served to underline this.
Lucky two times
The second lucky break was when Spark outbid Sky TV to buy the broadcast rights to the Rugby World Cup. Telcos around the world have stuck their feet in and out of broadcast sports rights. BT in the UK has some Premier League football. Optus and Telstra in Australia have links with sporting codes there.
Sparks’ plan to show Rugby as a digital stream was also ambitious. As it turns out it was alright on the night, apart from an early glitch.
We got lucky a second time because of that ambition. It became clear Spark had overreached. The networks were robust and strong. Yet they may not have been quite ready for millions of New Zealanders to watch the nation’s favourite sporting tournament online.
To prepare, Spark and the other telcos invested in beefing up their networks. Chorus and the fibre companies did the same. The entire industry brought forward about 18 months or so of network investment.
In the end it was over-engineered. The industry built almost half as much more capacity than needed. It was better to be safe than sorry.
It turns out that over-engineering gave networks more than enough capacity to deal with most of the nation working from home. In the next few days school and university students will be studying from home. We have the bandwidth.
There are challenges ahead. We will need more capacity and more headroom. The fibre companies and the telcos are working to stay well ahead of the demand curve. When it comes to broadband, the lucky country is New Zealand.
Bill Bennett edits the Download magazine for Chorus.
- Many people who don’t have access to fibre tell me fixed wireless is good too. But some people have a less stellar experience. ↩︎