Last week Spark extended what it calls its ‘uncapped’ fixed wireless broadband footprint. It now reaches another 500,000 potential customers.
The company’s Unplan Metro plan, yes that’s right and yes, it does sound weird, is now available at 1.2 million homes. The expanded fixed wireless broadband footprint includes towns and the rural areas where it is more needed.
Spark says that covers around two-thirds of all homes and more than 10 percent of rural households.
Where fixed wireless scores
Fixed wireless broadband is an alternative to fibre broadband. It’s a great choice if you live in a place where you can’t get fibre.
Performance and reliability is not as good as fibre, but it is better than your practical alternatives.1
If you can get fixed wireless at your address – that is not always a given2 – it installs fast. Spark will courier a modem and you could be online within an hour of it arriving.
It may be worth buying a low-end fixed wireless plan if you have limited broadband needs or are on a tight budget. Spark has a Basic plan for $45 a month with 40GB of data.
That’s more than enough for almost anyone who doesn’t use streaming, video conferencing or online gaming. You’ll be able to make voice calls and handle a limited number of Zoom meetings each month.
Otherwise, for a lot of people fixed wireless represents poor value. In almost every case you’ll be able to buy a faster, more reliable fibre plan with fewer restrictions on data downloads for less money. A number of people were let down by fixed wireless broadband when working from home during lockdowns.
That’s the case even if you buy fibre from Spark, which is among the most expensive options on the market.
What you will pay
Spark’s 5G Wireless Broadband Plan with nominally unlimited data – see below – costs $95. If you’re not on Spark’s 5G networks, and at the time of writing few people are, you can get a 4G fixed wireless plan for $85. Chances are it will be fast enough to meet your broadband needs, but, unlike with fibre, there are no guarantees.
In comparison no-questions-asked 100Mbps unlimited fibre plan from Spark is $90. You can buy similar plans elsewhere for up to $20 less. Flip has a fibre plan that works out at around $60 a month.
An all-you-can-eat 1Gbps fibre plan from Spark costs $110. A mere $15 more than the wireless plan. That’s a faster speed that most people need. Yet it means there will never be any limits on your broadband activity even with a house full of internet fanatics.
Uncapped – that word doesn’t mean what you think it means
While Spark describes Unplan Metro as either ‘uncapped’ or ‘unconstrained’ data, that’s not the full story. In the small print there’s mention of a Fair Use Policy.
This is vague. You have to dig around to get a clear picture of what it could mean. But in simple terms it means Spark can kick you off if it decides you are using too much data.
In other words, it is neither uncapped or unconstrained in the usual sense of those words. The Commerce Commission may yet have something to say about this description.
Spark, Vodafone pushing fixed wireless
Spark, Vodafone, and to a lesser extent 2degrees are both pushing fixed wireless broadband as an alternative to fibre.
Spark CEO Jolie Hodson said earlier this year she would like to move between 30 and 40 percent of landline customers to wireless by 2023.
It’s a lucrative business.
Wireless services piggyback off the cellular networks used to connect mobile phones. It requires extra investment to support fixed wireless, but that’s incremental.
The technology bypasses the wholesale fibre networks. More to the point they bypass the fees charged by fibre companies. Spark and Vodafone make a higher margin from wireless broadband than from fibre.
In the past customers have had a mixed experience with wireless. Network upgrades and the switch to 5G will improve that, but the technology is not for everyone.