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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. 

  1. Many people who don’t have access to fibre tell me fixed wireless is good too. But some people have a less stellar experience. ↩︎

50 thoughts on “New Zealand got lucky twice with broadband

  1. @billbennettnz from where i sit – right now in Auckland – I have access to a Spark wifi router and separately (don’t ask) a Vodafone wifi router. My wi-fi signal to both is SOLID.

    I have given up on both of them – and camp on my Spark mobile hotspot – it’s often faster – but always reliable.

      • Bill, would you like to do an explainer on this? People read your blog, and perhaps the knowledge (“why your wi-fi sucks, and what to do about it”) will percolate out.

        For Wi-Fi 4 and 5 (as -N and -AC are now called), what matters is not the device you are using and how many bars it has, but the devices that the access point can just ‘hear’ … most of the time. Those with zero bars, or one bar. The access point spends all its time yelling “what did you say? I didn’t get that. Try again.” to those devices, ignoring everybody else.

        Cellular radio has had TDMA, OFDM or cleverer “fair share” systems in place in for a long time. That’s why it works better. Wi-Fi 6 is where wi-fi gets something similar to cellular, with OFDMA.

  2. Great post!

    I love my fibre connection. Two years ago I was on 120 GB capped Spark’s wireless broadband and I used to run out towards the end of the month, and the speed wasn’t great either.

    With fibre, I wish the upload speed could be better. I am happy with 100 Mbps download, but 20 Mbps up is a bit slow. The next tier upload speed is 400 Mbps. I wish there are some intermediate upload speeds around 100 Mbsp.

      • Thanks for this nudge. I just checked and I am going to move to Skinny Unlimited Fibre Ultra (900 down and 500 up) once my Spark contract ends in June.

        I wouldn’t have realized this if not your prompt. Thanks heaps, Bill!

  3. Here is the state of the RBI1 network in Bay of Plenty. Applications to Full Flavour’s rural broadband. Yellow = 3G only, Red = Voda decline service due to stop-sell or no coverage full stop.

  4. We surveyed our connected RBI1 customers last week, 76% of respondents weren’t getting MOE specification internet of 20Mbps download, 5Mbps upload.

    • I am on adsl and I am lucky to get 14 Mbps down and .1 upload. Also If I want to upload for some reason it kills ALL internet on my system. I tried to upload some photos for a friend, I couldn’t do it as it literally stopped ALL internet access until I killed the Upload. My ISP says I have nothing wrong with my system

  5. We live 2.35km from town and have no fibre or Vdsl. ADSL was about 4 mb/s but now have long range wireless @20mb/s. Which is fine but moving forward we (and our kids) will be left behind.

    My parents live 10km away from another town. The mobile coverage is patchy. No vdsl or fibre. Adsl @8mb/s.

    Point being I guess is that the next push needs to be for those on the edges.

    • I can’t promise that will happen, but I think there will be some pressure to extend fibre’s reach a little further. It may not help you though.

  6. Unless you are stuck on ADSL because they stopped 100 meters down the road. and get rorted more for ADSL, than you do on Fibre. That sucks. We pay more for an inferior service. So I think it Stinks that people get left out. And it REEKS people are charged for that privilege.

  7. But David, that’s pretty much the point I’m making. There’s no excuse for stopping 100m from willing customers. Running another few 100m of fibre everywhere that happens wouldn’t be expensive.

  8. I know and I have tried without success to even get the people on the phone to even pay for the goddam thing brought down here. Because the ADSL is only good for reading . Trying to watch Youtube and it keeps Buffering


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