Everyone knows fibre is the best way to get broadband. It’s reliable and can deliver gigabit speeds. Soon it will be able to go even faster.

After 100 years on top, copper is on the way out for most people. But not for everyone. At least not yet.

There is still life in copper broadband. Scientists and engineers have squeezed every last electron of performance from wire-based data transfer to the point where, with the right conditions, copper can deliver fibre-like speeds.

For the most part, the right conditions means living no more than about 1.5 kilometres from a roadside cabinet or exchange.

VDSL interim until fibre arrives

This is good news because the second phase of New Zealand’s government supported UltraFast Broadband roll-out will not be complete until 2022.

People in areas at the back of the queue will have to make do with copper broadband for now. Fixed wireless broadband is also an option.

Those people in areas not yet scheduled for fibre will wait still longer. Eventually fibre will reach beyond 87 percent of the population, but not soon enough to keep everyone happy.

Chorus, Nokia crank up VDSL speeds

Relief is on the way. Chorus and Nokia are working on the latest version of VDSL2 vectoring which could see copper broadband users get speeds as high as 130 Mbps.

Vectoring uses noise-cancelling technology to remove the crosstalk interference found when many signals share the same copper connection. If that sounds too technical a description, focus on this: Vectoring means higher speed.

You’ll need to be close to a cabinet to get maximum speed. The further you are from the cabinet the slower it gets.

Existing VDSL2 users living next to a cabinet should see speeds of around 80 mbps. One kilometre away from the cabinet the speed drops to around 25 to 30 mbps. By the time you are two kilometres away, the speed is down to around 20 mbps, maybe a fraction lower.

The ratios are likely to be similar when vectoring is applied. So expect around 130 mbps near the cabinet and roughly 30 mbps two kilometres away.

Fibre-like speeds

This isn’t bad. When fibre first went on sale in New Zealand customers were offered 30 mbps plans.

To put the speed in context, Netflix recommends 5 mbps for HD television streaming and 25 mbps for ultra high-definition.

In other words, get ready to enjoy Spark’s streaming coverage of next year’s Rugby World Cup or Premier League football. If that’s not your thing, there are plenty of other streaming TV options.

VDSL fine in practice

Until recently I was getting around 50 to 60 mbps on a non-upgraded VDSL2 copper connection. I live around 700 metres from the nearest cabinet. This gives you some idea of the potential.

Chorus head of Network Technology Martin Sharrock says getting the fastest possible broadband experience to customers is a priority.

He says: “Vectoring has improved average VDSL downstream speeds by over 40 percent and upstream speeds by over 30 percent. This is especially important for rural New Zealand where fibre to the home has not yet been planned.”

Federico Guillén, president of Nokia Fixed Networks, said: “Nokia’s copper solution with vectoring technology compliments Chorus’ fibre roll-out and provides another way to deliver significantly higher speeds that enhance the way customers experience digital content.”

And then there is wireless

As mentioned earlier, fixed wireless broadband is an option for people in areas not served by fibre. Some wireless towers are full, they’re not open to accept more customers. This is the case in my Auckland suburb where fibre is an option.

While fixed wireless broadband can, in theory, deliver speeds faster than VDSL with vectoring to people further away from a cabinet, the speed tends to vary depending on how many others are using the same bandwidth at the same time. It will probably slow down at peak TV viewing times.

If you’re not on fibre, it’s worth investigating both technologies. You can find out if a copper VDSL2 connection is available at your address from the Chorus broadband checker. To get a bigger picture of all your broadband options use InternetNZ’s excellent National Broadband Map.

IITP CEO Paul Matthews has achieved what others couldn’t manage: bringing together most of New Zealand’s IT-focused organisations under a single umbrella. Next year 11 other bodies will join IITP at the ITx 2016 conference in Wellington.

According to a press release, the three-day event, will be held at the TSB Arena and Shed 6 complex on 11-13 July 2016. The organisations behind ITx say they hope to attract 1200 attendees. It may pay to book early, Wellington isn’t awash with hotel accommodation.

The ITx organisers say while the event will include 12 tech-related conferences under one roof, there will be common sessions.

The organisations are:

  • The Institute of IT Professionals NZ (IITP), New Zealand IT Professionals;
  • NZ Technology Industry Association (NZTech), represents tech companies;
  • NZRise, represents NZ-owned digital technology companies;
  • IT Service Management Forum NZ, tIT Service Management professionals;
  • Citrenz, computing schools in the Institute of Technology and Polytech sector;
  • Health Informatics NZ, individuals practicing in health IT;
  • Tuanz, IT and communications users.
  • Test Professionals Network, forum for promoting excellence in systems and software testing;
  • Agile Day, where Agile professionals come together;
  • InternetNZ, the voice of the internet community;
  • Project Management Institute of NZ, representing PM professionals; and
  • NZ Open Source Society (NZOSS), the body promoting Open Source Software in NZ

Bringing together so many bodies together for a single conference is a smart idea. Events of this nature are costly and time-consuming to organise, spreading the load makes sense.

Also, attendees, sponsoring companies and likely exhibitors are all under time pressure. Crunching everything into three busy days is a better use of everyone’s time.

While ITx 2016 makes commercial sense and is an outstanding political triumph, the need to pull multiple events into one reflects changing industry economics. Tech giants no longer make stellar profits, at least not the companies likely to take an interest in professional technology events.

The historic technology event scene came about because marketing dollars needed to find a good, productive home. Vendors no longer have as many marketing dollars to splash around, no matter how worthwhile the cause.

Similar pressure scythed through the technology press. It is now a fraction of its former size.

Consolidation in the tech conference sector mirrors the consolidation taking place in the wider technology industry.

IITP and Tuanz have a track record of interesting conferences. Here’s a wrap of what I found at the 2113 event.

From Andrew Cushen at InternetNZ writing in Flexibility of regulation for technology:

…the government moving relatively quickly to respond to technical innovation in a sensible, considered matter, and that seeks to accommodate that innovation rather than stifle it.

…I hope that when we continue to talk to the government about challenges that regulation creates for new Internet based technologies, and continue to do so with reference to the policy principle listed above, that the government will continue to have such an accommodating attitude to innovation through technology.

Cushen is commenting here on the response to calls from Uber to change the legislation around taxis, but his point is general.

He is right on this, the current NZ government seems to have the right balance when dealing with technology innovation. This isn’t about ideology, the last government was also flexible when it came to regulating on technology. Long may that new tradition continue.

Network for Learning says 20 schools have begun moving to the company’s managed network. It also demonstrated its portal which will open in earnest at the start of the next school year.

The business was set up by the government to help schools use the UFB and RBI networks being built in New Zealand. It also has the job of encouraging digital learning.

N4L aims to have 700 schools on its network by the end of 2014. Eventually, the network will connect more than 800,000 students, teachers and admin staff.

The idea behind N4L is to give schools security along with a higher level of service quality and support than they have previously seen. N4L also aims to make internet performance more predictable, which makes applications like video conferencing more practical. By offering centralised support, it hopes to shoulder some of the burdens of running school internet leaving teachers to get on with teaching.

N4L’s network will mainly run over the UFB fibre network, but for the 25 percent of the country not covered by the network, it will use the RBI network and the technologies delivering broadband to remote areas.

  • Shorter internet addresses could soon be on the agenda after The Council of InternetNZ approved plans allowing second-level .nz domain names.  In other words, sites like billbennett.co.nz could be simply billbennett.nz. Domain Name Commission Chair David Farrar says: “This change will enable greater choice for people, companies and organisations wanting to get online or expand their online presence. A final policy implementing the proposal is subject to public consultation.
  • NZX stepped into the discussion about Chorus’ financial position after news reports of comments made by the Coalition for Fair Internet Pricing. The exchange denies it commented on Chorus’ compliance with listing rules. NZX says it does not comment on companies. The matter became news after Prime Minister John Key told the media Chorus was in danger of going broke as justification for overruling the Commerce Commission.

InternetNZ policy contractor Reg Hammond warns government could be paving the way for a  significant change of policy on the UltraFast Broadband (UFB) network now being built.

In a blog post Hammond says any policy changes will have broader implications for users and the telecommunications industry.

He says there are signs the government plans to move away from the idea that the new fibre network will compete with the existing copper network to a policy designed to push users into moving to fibre.

One way of doing this would be to give fibre a price advantage over copper. It can do this by keeping the regulated price of a copper service artificially high relative to fibre costs.

Hammond says for that to work, the government would need to change the laws it previously enacted to base the regulated price of copper services on the costs of providing those services. That approach would see copper prices fall.

As he says, this in turn would have consequences. For example, the fibre network will only reach 75 percent of the country. The remaining 25 percent will stay with copper. Instead of the copper price reducing, these people will end up paying more for their connections in order to subsidise people on the fibre network.