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For the last week or so Chorus has issued a daily update on the data traffic passing through its network. After an initial surge when large numbers of people began working from home, things have settled into a pattern.

It’s the new normal. As Spark’s technology director Mark Beder points out, weekday data use now looks the way weekend’s looked before the lock down. Weekend peaks are now higher again.

Spark says the amount of data on its network has doubled since widespread remote working started. Data peaks are about 27 percent higher than before the pandemic arrived.

Peak mobile traffic is up 22 percent. The company says it has seen some congestion at times and is working on adding capacity.

Call of Duty update

An update to the Call of Duty game on the first weekend of the lockdown period caused what Spark technology director Mark Beder describes as a “massive spike”.

Away from Spark, Tuesday evening saw traffic peak at 2.70Tbps on the Chorus network. There was an update to the Fortnite game during the evening which may have accounted for the extra traffic. The busiest midday this week was Wednesday with 1.72Tbps.

Both Ultrafast Broadband and Enable Networks have registered similar increases. UFF says it now sees about double the amount of pre-lockdown data.

Traffic well within capacity, for now

The Chorus figures are well within the network’s capacity limits. In the run-up to last year’s Rugby World Cup, which was streamed by Spark Sport, Chorus and most of the rest of the broadband industry brought forward capacity upgrades by 18 months or so.

Today the network is built to cope with 3.5Tbps. That’s comfortably above the peaks we are seeing at the moment. Traffic could go higher again when school and university terms restart, but there appears to be more than enough headroom to cope.

 

Chorus says it will waive wholesale broadband charges for up to 50,000 homes that do not have network access. The move aims to bridge the digital divide. It helps students now forced to study at home because of Covid-19 pandemic measures.

For six months households identified by the Ministry of Education as needing broadband for education will get a free connection. This only applies where there is suitable Chorus infrastructure.

The plan is to use the best available broadband. That means fibre where a connection is in place. It means VDSL if fibre is not installed and ADSL if VDSL is not available. There are restrictions on installing new fibre connections under the Covid-19 lockdown. For that reason Chorus says it expects most of the connections will use the copper technologies: VDSL and ADSL.

Speed is of the essence

Ed Hyde, Chorus chief customer officer says: “I am excited to be able to confirm that the Chorus network can be used to provide access to essential tools for learning to students in homes that do not currently have a broadband connection.

It is important to connect these homes as quickly as possible. Hyde says Chorus will work with internet service providers so that learning can resume from the start of the second school term of the year.

He says; “As a wholesale provider, Chorus can’t deliver the whole solution. We’re now looking to the internet service providers who package up our products for consumers to also support the Ministry of Education, with both financial and operational support.

Digital divide an operational challenge

“Delivering these connections to students in a matter of weeks will present a huge operational challenge for the industry. We know how important this is so we will be working hard to get this done.”

InternetNZ CEO Jordan Carter says he is pleased to see Chorus working with ISPs and the government towards increasing digital inclusion during the lockdown. “Affordable internet access for all New Zealanders is vital to maintaining social cohesion, sharing essential information and maintaining work and education.”

Tuanz CEO Craig Young says he expects retail internet company to pass on the free wholesale price in full. He says: “There is a real need for this collaboration we’re seeing to continue, but also to widen across the industry”.

Enable, Ultrafast Fibre move to serve excluded schoolchildren

Enable says it will offer free wholesale fibre broadband to connected homes where schoolchildren unable to access the internet. The company says there are up to 2000 unused fibre connections at the moment.

Steve Fuller, Enable CEO, says: “I can only imagine how isolated some children are feeling when they can’t connect to their school community or their friends and we want to help as many of them as we can”.

Central North Island fibre company Ultrafast Fibre has made a similar move. It says there are around 1,650 households in its area that have an unused connection. Like Enable, UFF will offer a 200/20 connection.

Enable NetworksHats off to Christchurch local fibre company Enable Networks. The company says it now has 50,000 customers connected to its network. CEO Steve Fuller says that means one in three of those who can get the company’s services are now connected.

Fuller says 24,000 have switched to fibre in the last 12 months. He says: “We’ve connected about 100 customers to fibre every business day – about 50 percent more than we thought we would connect at peak uptake rates”.

Enable now has 6,240 business connections which is an increase of 2,142 in a year. By the time Enable’s network build finishes next year, it will reach around 180,000 premises.

The Canterbury town of Rolleston is Enable’s star performer with a connection rate of around 70 percent.

Enable’s 50,000 connection milestone an achievement by any measure. The fibre build hasn’t been easy for Enable Networks, which was named as the government’s Christchurch UFB partner soon after the 2011 earthquake. At the time, the city was still reeling from after shocks.

broadband

Vodafone is using the promise of a three-day install and lower gigabit prices as a lure to its FibreX network.

FibreX is the new name for the Vodafone HFC (hybrid-fibre coaxial) network that services parts of Wellington, the Kapiti Coast and Christchurch.

A naked unlimited data gigabit plan costs $110 a month on FibreX. That is $30 less than Vodafone’s equivilant plan for a UFB fibre connection.

Customers who have a qualifying Vodafone mobile account will pay $100. All FibreX plans are 24-month contracts.

Gigabit in three days

Consumer director Matt Williams says Vodafone will install customers with an existing cable connection in three days.

He says: “It takes a lot longer than three days to install a UFB fibre connection and there is a waiting list. When a customer signs with us, we’ll have engineers turn up with a modem and they’ll make the connection in three working days. If we don’t we’ll give the customer a $100 credit.”

Vodafone says it spent more than $20 million upgrading the HFC network to gigabit speeds. So far about three-quarters of the network has been upgraded. Vodafone says it will complete the rest by the end of the year.

Docis 3.1

FibreX is one of the first networks in the world to use the new Docis 3.1standard. Australia’s NBNco plans to use the same technology on the Telstra HFC network.

In theory Docsis 3.1 can deliver speeds of up to 10Gbps down and 1Gbps up. For now Vodafone is offering 1Gbps in New Zealand and points out that in practice this means about 950mbps in normal use.

Vodafone technology director Tony Baird says the company worked with Huawei to upgrade the network. He says it uses the GPON2 while the UFB network uses GPON1.

Away with shared bandwidth

In the past Vodafone’s HFC network offered fast headline speeds but much of the capacity was shared. This caused slow-downs at peak times when the network was congested.

Baird says there has been a complete replacement and the network now uses GPON and fibre to feed kerbside cabinets. From there each customer has their own line.

He says there are about 600 cabinets on the network. If there is more demand, the number of cabinets can be expanded.

Customers signing for FibreX will need a new cable modem. Baird says this is the same Huawei device that Vodafone uses for its UFB customers.

Minister calls for better experiences

Williams says the FibreX network is Vodafone’s response to Communications Minster Amy Adams call for service providers to deliver better broadband experiences. He says the fast install is an important part of this and slow installs have been a source of frustration for other fibre customers.

Vodafone passed up on the opportunity to offer FibreX customers broadband services bundled with Sky TV subscriptions. Williams says customers on the FibreX network will be able to buy the same Sky packages as everyone else.

While Vodafone is coy about the number of customers on its HFC network, earlier reports and comments from the company suggest it passes around 145,000 homes. That’s around 11 percent of all New Zealand homes, but more like 15 percent of the UFB footprint. The two networks overlap.

FibreX competes with Chorus, Enable Networks

This means puts FibreX in direct competition with Chorus in Wellington and on the Kapiti Coast and with Enable Networks in Christchurch.

Unlike UFB which has a regulated, fully separated wholesale layer, Vodafone’s FibreX network is vertically integrated. The company does not pay an access fee to Chorus or Enable Networks. This gives Vodafone room to move on price.

It’ll be interesting to see how the new network performs in comparison with UFB fibre. Williams thinks it is a compelling alternative.

When asked if Vodafone will offer both FibreX and gigabit UFB he said the company “will provide whatever the customer wants. But I can’t imagine why you would want the other fibre if you were in the FibreX area”.

Vodafone FibreX press release.

GigatownEnable Networks, Northpower Fibre and Ultrafast Fibre plan to launch gigabit wholesale broadband services in October. They say they will offer download speeds of 1Gbps with uploads running at 500Mbps.

Meanwhile Spark New Zealand says it is already testing Enable’s gigabit services in Christchurch. The company had previously asked wholesale fibre companies to roll out gigabit services nationwide.

MyRepublic managing director Vaughan Baker says his company will automatically upgrade its 200Mbps customers in Whangarei, Hamilton, Christchurch to a 1Gbps plan for no extra cost when the service becomes available in October.

The three fibre companies planning a gigabit upgrade have local wholesale monopolies in about one-third of UFB areas. Northpower operates in Whangarei, Enable run the network in and around Christchurch while UFF is the fibre wholesaler for much of the central North Island.

It started in Gigatown

Chorus, which operates fibre networks throughout the rest of New Zealand says it is discussing the matter with its partners. It already offers a gigabit service in Dunedin which won Chorus’ Gigatown competition.

Dunedin has had a mixed gigabit broadband experience. While there’s evidence that some companies are making use of the high speeds, there has also been criticism about getting connected to the service. There is also a debate in the city over whether it has attracted businesses.

Even so, there’s ample evidence consumers want faster broadband speeds. That’s despite there being few residential applications to challenge the 200Mbps services already on offer.

Enable says most of its residential customers are now ordering services with download speeds of 100Mbps or 200Mbps. It says existing fibre users are upgrading to faster speeds.

The company says it plans to work with its retail service providers to launch new services to homes in Christchurch, Rangiora, Kaiapoi, Woodend, Rolleston and Lincoln.

New Zealand hooked on speed

After a slow start, Ultrafast Broadband is gathering momentum and the greatest demand is for the fastest services.

Communications minister Amy Adams says between March and June 2016, 87 percent of new residential connections were for 100Mbps services or higher. And 9 percent of new connections are 200Mbps or above.

She says: “There are already over 3700 active residential 1Gbps services in New Zealand, and I expect to see this grow. LFCs have announced wholesale products. I encourage the industry to collaborate to offer gigabit plans at a retail level on attractive terms.”