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Final UFB leg secures West Coast network resilience

Chorus subcontractors finished the last stage of a 250km network extension to secure West Coast telecommunications.Chorus subcontractors finished the last stage of a 250km network extension to secure West Coast telecommunications.

Final UFB leg secures West Coast network resilience

A 250km fibre connection between Fox Glacier and Haast completes the project giving the West Coast modern and resilient communications.

Until now the region has depended on two lines. One runs along State Highway 6 from Nelson to Greymouth. The other connects Greymouth to Christchurch through Arthur’s Pass crossing the Alpine Fault seismic zone.

This arrangement left the West Coast vulnerable to communications outages during severe weather.

To Lake Hawea and the world

The connection between Fox Glacier and Haast and then on to Lake Hawea provides an additional route to the rest of the world.

Chorus GM, Customer and Network Operations Andrew Carroll says the connection gives West Coasters an additional layer of protection.

Crown Infrastructure Partners provided government funding for the project. The work was handled by Ventia and Electronet, two Chorus subcontractors and the Rural Connectivity Group played a significant role.

Communications minister David Clark says the UFB extension was financed through the Provincial Growth Fund.

West Coast connectivity

He says: “On the West Coast alone, the population with access to UFB has surged from 23 percent to 71 percent since 2017”.

On top of the connection, the new connection brings fibre to the small West Coast community at Haast. Around 90 homes there will now be able to order a fibre connection.

Carroll says: “Making fibre available to residents in Haast was a uniquely Kiwi initiative; it sees residents in one of the remotest towns in New Zealand having access to one of the fastest broadband technologies available.”

The new fibre has allowed the Rural Connectivity Group to add 16 further cell towers in the area. These add to the 26 cell towers operational on the West Coast. They mean residents will have 4G mobile services while 130km of remote state highways will have coverage.


Vocus and 2degrees get OIO nod

Vocus NZ and 2degrees welcome today’s statement from the Overseas Investment Office, providing consent for the acquisition of 2degrees, which will enable the merger of the two businesses.

Mark Callander, Vocus NZ CEO and named CEO of the merged business says, “We welcome OIO consent, which concludes the regulatory approvals for the transaction and will allow us to proceed with the merger of Vocus NZ and 2degrees. We expect the transaction to be finalised in the coming weeks and will come together as a combined business as 2degrees on June 1.”


Trustpower sale to Mercury now unconditional

Mercury NZ told the NZX its NZ$467 acquisition of Trustpower’s retail business is now unconditional.

The move sees the energy company move to become a second tier telecommunications retailer and New Zealand’s largest multiple service utilities business.

The remainder of Trustpower has been renamed as Manawa Energy and says it will focus on renewable energy.

While Trustpower was a minnow compared with Spark, Vodafone and the recently merged 2degrees-Orcon business, it was the next largest fixed-line broadband retailer with a six percent market share.

It recently added fixed-wireless broadband to its product offering.

Combined with Mercury’s customers this moves up to 7.8 percent. Spark is on around 40 percent, while Vodafone and 2degrees are each on roughly 20 percent. The top five account for more than 85 percent of all broadband customers.

Trustpower was a Spark mobile reseller. The company’s mobile phone business barely registers in market share terms and Mercury did not formerly have any business in this space. The deal is unlikely to move the dial unless there is significant change in the Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) sector.

Influential player

Despite being small, Trustpower was influential. It pioneered the strategy of cross-selling power and telecommunications. That meant it found a way to reduce customer churn. That’s something other retail broadband service providers continue to struggle with.

Vocus followed Trustpower’s lead when it acquired power retailer Switch Utilities Ltd in 2016. This move meant it could sell similar power-broadband bundles. The company says this has proved popular with customers. Today the business is branded as Vocus Energy although that may change after the merger between Vocus-Orcon and 2degrees.

In September, the Commerce Commission waved through the acquisition saying it was satisfied the deal was “unlikely to substantially lessen competition in any New Zealand market.” The consideration is based on the two companies’ position in the electricity market. The Commerce Commission official statement, barely mentions the telecommunications aspect of the acquisition.


Telcowatch: NZ mobile market stable

Telcowatch’s quarterly market share report shows there was little movement between New Zealand’s mobile phone carriers in the first quarter of 2022.

Spark remains the largest mobile carrier with a 36 percent market share under its own brand and a further 7 percent for its cut-price Skinny subsidiary. The total is 43 percent.

Vodafone is second on 25 percent with 2degrees bringing up the rear with a 23 percent market share. Movement between the brands was minimal during the quarter with 2degrees dropping half a percent of market share.


Phone shipments tumble 9 percent in first quarter 2022

IDC reports worldwide phone shipments tumbled 8.9 percent in the first quarter of 2022 when compared with 2021.

Rival analyst company Counterpoint Research puts the 2022 q1 fall at seven percent to 328 million units. IDC puts the total sale at 314 million units. This is behind IDC’s earlier forecast.

There’s a closer look at 2022 first quarter phone shipments on the main blog site.


New Zealand signs Declaration for the future of the Internet

New Zealand joined the United States, every European Union nation, Australia and 31 other countries to sign a wide-ranging Declaration for the Future of the Internet.

It lays out a set of priorities for an “open, free, global, interoperable, reliable and secure internet”. The document includes lofty ideas such as affordability, net neutrality and dealing with illegal content while not getting in the way of free expression. There are few details on how the signatories will achieve any of this, but the concept sounds good.

All this comes at a time when countries like China and Russia are clamping down on the freedoms outlined in the declaration. And significantly it contradicts Ukrainian demands to have Russia cut off from the wider internet.


Apologies to anyone upset by the non-appearance of last week’s The Download newsletter. I caught Covid and was out of action for a few days.


In other news… At Reseller News Rob O’Neill covers research from Spark’s CCL operation on New Zealand companies’ cloud investment plans. Half the companies surveyed by CCL say they intend to invest more in cloud services next year.

The Overseas Investment Office has given Amazon Web Services the go-ahead to proceed with its plans for an AWS region in New Zealand. The project will involve multiple data centres which Amazon says will means spending NZ$7.5 billion.

Seeby Woodhouse’s Voyager Internet is working on a 100 gigabit network upgrade. It should be complete in November. A blog post on the Voyager website says the upgrade means the ISP can offer customers 10G services, L2 Ethernet and national backhaul.

2degrees is working with Microsoft and Umbrellar on its Cloud Navigator portal. The service gives customers self-service control over managing abut being Microsoft licences and products.

A report in the Wall Street Journal says the NFT market is “collapsing”. Average sales of NFTs are down 92 percent from their peak in September and the number of active wallets, which indicate people trading in NFTs, is down 88 percent. “Collapse” could be too strong a word, but it looks like reality is intruding on the market.

Engineers at CableLabs demonstrated 8Gbps downloads and 5Gbps uploads on an HFC network using a DOCSIS 4.0 modem. In theory the technology could be used to revive Vodafone’s UFC Broadband.

Peter Berghaus New Zealand (PB Traffic), is using Internet of Things (IoT) technology from Pollin8 and Thinxtra to maintain road safety and optimise traffic flow at infrastructure development sites. The company uses the technology to keep track of its temporary traffic lights.


UFB average speed closes on 400 Mbps

Crown Infrastructure Partners’ latest quarterly report shows a leap in UFB download speeds and significant rural broadband progress. 

Average UFB speed nears 400 Mbps as uptake hits 68 percent

Chorus’ move to lift standard plan fibre speeds from 100 Mbps to 300 Mbps late last year has paid off. In its latest quarterly connectivity report Crown Infrastructure Partners says the average fibre speed in New Zealand is now 398 Mbps. That’s 121 Mbps higher than in the previous report.  

CIP says 48 percent of fibre customers are on 300 Mbps, two percent are on 500 Mbps and 21 percent, or a total of 256,053 connections, are on gigabit or higher speeds.

Fibre uptake across New Zealand is now at 68 percent. Growth has slowed as many customers have opted for the fixed wireless broadband alternative. There are places where more than nine out of ten premises now have fibre. The leading area is Whatawhata in the Waikato where 98 percent of connected premises have taken a fibre service.

Rural connectivity

The last quarter of 2021 saw progress with rural connectivity projects. A further 19 towns were connected to the UFB network bringing the total to 346. Ten more tourism sites were added to the broadband network. A further 12,688 rural homes and businesses now have access to improved broadband, lifting the total to 70,911.

In the quarter 38 new mobile towers were added to the RCG network – there are now 310. A further 70 towers were upgraded.

Uptake on RCG towers reached 40 percent in the quarter and an additional 37 Marae were connected to the network.

Announcing these figures, Minister for the Digital Economy and Communications, David Clark said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how reliable internet is vital to being able to work, learn and socialise from our homes. Access to a good connection should not be a postcode lottery.”

Comment: It’s been a hell of a ride since Steven Joyce first announced the plan to build a fibre network in 2008. Now, 14 years later the pieces are almost all in place and we are seeing the benefits. It is an important technology and one where New Zealand has done extremely well. We are a world leader at providing broadband.

At times I feel more like a cheerleader than a journalist writing about our broadband network. But as the next story shows, building New Zealand’s communications infrastructure doesn’t always run as smooth as the UFB project.


Transmission Gully mobile black spots back in the news

Writing at The New Zealand Herald Chris Keall reports on the numerous mobile coverage blackspots on the Transmission Gully motorway which opened this week. The story suggests the new motorway may need to be dug up to install new cell towers.

He quotes Telecommunications Forum boss Paul Brislen: “The mobile network operators produced a design plan to provide coverage on Transmission Gully back in 2020. Since then, mobile operators have not been able to gain access to the area in order to build any mobile infrastructure prior to the road opening.”

The problem has been known about for some time. Last September Stuff reported on the blackspots days before the planned motorway opening date.

Waka Kotahi, the NZ Transport Agency says the motorway will not need to be dug because there are built-in ducts which can handle the power and data cables needed for a new cell tower.


Trilogy sees 2degrees sale to complete this quarter

2degrees parent company Trilogy International Partners says the business saw revenue grow seven percent in the fourth quarter of 2021.

In a statement outlining the 2021 results Trilogy says fixed broadband subscribers increased 13 percent and postpaid mobile subscriber numbers were up 8 percent. Business post subscribers were up 24 percent compared with a year earlier.

CEO Brad Horwitz says the $1.3 billion sale of 2degrees to Vocus Group Limited “crystallises value for our shareholders at a valuation which reflects the accomplishments of our team in New Zealand”.

He says: “The sale process continues to advance as expected and was recently approved by Trilogy shareholders as well as the New Zealand Commerce Commission and the New Zealand Government Communications Security Bureau. One additional government approval remains, the Overseas Investment Office, which is expected in the second quarter.”


Vodafone leverages RCG sites for IoT reach

Vodafone says it is working with the Rural Connectivity Group to extend its Narrowband Internet of Things network. In the next few years it expects the network to cover 60 percent of the country.


Tuatahi notes Fortnite surge

Hamilton-based Tuatahi says it saw a 20 percent surge in data on the company’s wholesale fibre network on March 20. That was the day Fortnite Chapter 3 Season 2 was released. CEO John Hanna says it was the highest spike on Tuatahi’s network to date, but there were no bottlenecks for customers.


Chorus submits price path statement

Chorus published an announcement to the NZX on Thursday saying the company was submitting its first price-path compliance statement to the Commerce Commission.

The maximum revenue for 2022 is $692 million. This includes pass through costs of around $16 million. In its statement Chorus forecasts its regulated fibre revenue will be $657 million.

Price-path compliance statements are part of the new regulatory framework for fibre services. The statement aims to confirm that revenues will stay below an agreed level for a set period.


NZME in revenue talks with Meta, Google

New Zealand Herald publisher NZME looks to be the first local media company to negotiate a commercial deal with Meta and Google. The deals compensate media companies when tech companies publish their material online.

Jarden analyst Arie Decker says: “The increasing likelihood of a deal with Google and potentially Meta would provide another important source of new revenue for NZME.” He estimates the deal will be worth between $2.5 and 3.5 million a year in the first five years growing eventually to nearer $5 million.


In other news

Rob O’Neill reports for Reseller News on plans for yet another large scale data centre. Like Datagrid, T4 Group aims to build in Southland where it can take advantage of a cooler climate and access to hydro power. Speaking of Datagrid; Stuff reports the company has called for expressions of interest to build its Southland data centre. The Domain Name Commission has launched its online dispute resolution pilot to help .nz domain name holders resolve .nz domain disputes in a more time-efficient and cost-effective manner.

 


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The year we filled in the telecommunications gaps

In the first part of this week’s technology segment on RNZ’s Nine to Noon show I talk with Kathryn Ryan about some of the big trends in tech this year, starting with plugging gaps in broadband coverage, the work done by the Rural Connectivity Group and extending the 5G network.

The most recent update from MBIE was in September. At the time the UFB network reached 85 percent of the population.

By March 2022 will reach 87 percent of NZ.

As we get towards the end of the build the rate of filling in those gaps drops. We’ll see why later.

The Rural Connectivity Group built close to 300 mobile towers. A lot of the work was done while the country was in lockdown.

The last announcement was in September when it reached 272 towers.

Regulators dealing with big tech

It’s also been a year regulators have started talking about – but not exactly moving on –  how to rein in big tech and strengthen privacy provisions.

It’s mainly, but not exclusively about Facebook.

Big tech companies are making moves to head off regulatory action… after all what do you think Facebook changing its name to Meta was really about?

But will it matter, if a prediction about how countries like China and Russia are keen to crack encryption through quantum computing is realised?

Russia and China are busy collecting all the encrypted data they can get their hands on.

They think there will be soon be breakthroughs in quantum computing that will let them read all that top secret material.

“Tech consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton has warned that China will soon plan the theft of high value data, so it can decrypt it once quantum computers break classical encryption.

How not to use Zoom

And then there is the business that used Zoom to fire 900 employees. Is that the best way of using the technology?

The worst thing about this story is the tech bro doing the sacking made himself the victim of the story during the call.

“If you’re on this call you’re part of the unlucky group being laid off,” said Vishal Garg, chief executive of mortgage firm Better.com, on the call, later uploaded to social media.

New satellite breed could upset rural comms

This week Starlink, a low earth orbit satellite internet service began taking orders. It is the first of a new wave of satellite broadband services heading this way.

Satellites won’t make much difference for New Zealanders who can connect to fibre. By the end of next year that will be 87 percent of us. The technology is slow, harder to use, has terrible latency and is expensive.

They change everything for the other 13 percent of the population.

To get Starlink customers must buy a satellite dish. A post on the Geekzone website suggests the dish costs around $800. Plan prices are around $160 a month for unlimited data at speeds between 50 and 150Mbps.

Latency the challenge

During the start up stage the service will have a latency of between 20 and 40ms. Starlink says this will improve over time.

While performance is poor compared with fibre, it is on a par with the best RBI fixed wireless connections.

At $160, the monthly price is higher. You need to buy an expensive dish. Which means it will tempt few RBI customers with a decent connection. Fixed Wireless is less bother and latency means applications like Zoom can be a problem.

Yet there is a waiting list for fixed wireless in parts of New Zealand. Carriers may be able to accomodate more customers when they have more bandwidth to play with.

Beat the fixed wireless queue

Starlink is unlikely to start operating until later this year. You may need to wait until 2022 for a connection. By then it will be a viable alternative for people who don’t want to wait for Spark or Vodafone.

There are, in effect, two classes of rural fixed wireless broadband in New Zealand. People with line-of-sight to a tower get frequencies used for urban mobile networks. This offers decent speeds, more than enough for most applications. Up to a point, line-of-sight fixed wireless is reliable.

More distant fixed wireless customers can have experiences ranging from acceptable all the way down to abysmal. This would be in the region of five or six percent of the population.

Another group can’t even get fixed wireless broadband. Over time more carriers will connect remote areas to terrestrial broadband networks. They will upgrade weak spots. This could take years.

Addressing the missing 10 percent

In round numbers, satellite broadband’s addressable New Zealand market is a shade under 10 percent of homes. That will fall as more and better terrestrial options come online.

The lack of data caps will be a drawcard. While the price is high by urban standards, $160 a month isn’t bad when you consider the alternatives.

Satellite promises better than that seen by more remote RBI fixed wireless customers.

No guarantees

Starlink says it will process orders on a first-come, first-served basis. Charges for pre-ordering are refundable. Small print warns customers there are no guarantees they will be able to get service.

According to Starlink, the satellite dish is self-configuring. It needs a clear line of sight to the existing satellites’ orbit. For now that’s restrictive, this will open up as Starlink launches more satellites. A mobile phone app can help prospective customers determine if they are able to use the service.

Starlink is the first LEO satellite network to start taking orders. Others are on the way including an ambitious 4,400 satellite project promised by Amazon.

One overlooked satellite broadband application is as an inexpensive back-up. Fibre is reliable, but not failsafe. Having a satellite ready to go makes a lot of sense for businesses where the internet is critical. These days that’s almost everyone.

Fibre uptake passes 60% mark in 10 NZ cities

According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s latest Quarterly Connectivity Report, 10 cities now have fibre uptake rates of greater than 60 percent.

Rolleston tops the list with 74 percent of homes and businesses connected to the fibre network.

The national uptake rate is now 55 percent. That’s up from 52 percent in the June quarter. An additional 58,912 premises were connected to the UFB network in the three months to the end of September.

Rugby World Cup surge

Much of that would have been a surge of customers getting ready to stream the Rugby World Cup on Spark Sport.

Communications Minister Kris Faafoi says the MBIE report shows the UFB network is not just providing benefits in the larger cities.

He says; “With UFB roll-out in 126 cities and towns around New Zealand, the deployment is now 87 per cent completed and still ahead of schedule.

“This investment and the connectivity it is making available shows this government’s continued commitment to closing the digital divide so all New Zealanders who want connectivity, have it”.

Rural too

Rural broadband is also growing fast. The MBIE report says phase two of the Rural Broadband Initiative means 40,000 households and businesses in “hard to reach regions of New Zealand” now have access to improved broadband.

In the September quarter 17 marae were connected to broadband. This brings the total number of connected marae to 31.

Gartner: Enterprise switches to open internet

Research company Gartner predicts that by the end of 2021, 70 percent of large enterprises will rely solely on the internet for their wide area network connectivity for small and remote branch offices. This is twice the number of enterprises who connected this way in 2017.

A report, How to Use the Internet for Cloud Connectivity Without Performance Disasters, by Australian-based analysts Bjarne Munch and Padraig Byrne says: “We are now seeing enterprises introducing an internet-first strategy for their WANs. This will also incorporate consumer-grade internet services, where possible.”

In other words, where they can companies are dropping expensive WAN products and jumping on to services like New Zealand’s UFB.

In some cases they use the same consumer services as residential users, in other cases, they use slightly more expensive business-class fibre services. The main difference between the two is the lack of contention on business services, although this isn’t a problem for users in New Zealand.

Business-class fibre services also usually come with better support.

As the name of the Gartner report suggests, the focus here is using the internet to connect to cloud services.

There are many nuances for businesses wanting to get the best performance from an internet service provider. For New Zealand companies one potential problem is the lack of alternative routes to cloud services. Another issue to consider is whether the service offers direct peering to the cloud services you require.

One interesting point made by the Gartner analysts is that many companies now want to include wireless broadband in their connectivity mix. Or as Munch and Byrne put it:

“Mobile broadband is increasingly included for truly diverse access designs.”

It’s a great option when companies have employees on the move, but it shouldn’t be a first choice for cloud connectivity. As the report says: “These are generally asymmetric and have unpredictable overbooking.”