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Vodafone says it has switched on its Himatangi Beach cell site. The new tower means 880 households in the area now have mobile phone coverage and wireless broadband.

The new tower is part of the government’s Rural Broadband Initiative which has been gathering momentum in recent months.

Elsewhere in the Manawatu District new towers have been built at Bunnythorpe, Kimbolton, Sanson, Apiti and Feilding East. Vodafone has also or soon will upgrade existing towers around the district. Together they provide coverage for more than 3,500 homes and businesses.

Vodafone’s Manawatu business development manager, Simon Bailey, says customers on the rural network can now get better broadband speeds than some people living in the cities. Previously most would have little more than dial-up connections – in some cases relatively slow speeds even by dial-up standards.

Along with wireless broadband, the extra towers extend the mobile coverage in rural areas. Vodafone says since the RBI project started an additional 4,500km of rural roads are now covered.

To date 60 new cell sites have been built and a further 190 have been upgraded for the RBI. Vodafone says 125,000 addresses now have services.

The RBI is now about half-way into a five year programme which will eventually see 154 new towers and upgrades to 387 towers.

New Zealand’s Rural Broadband Initiative is a Vodafone and Chorus joint project. Chorus is building a fibre network with direct links to rural schools and cabinets. It is also building fibre to Vodafone cell towers which deliver mobile phone services and wireless broadband.