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fibre opticWhat will move New Zealanders from copper to Ultra-Fast Broadband?

Or as we used to say in the 1990s: “What is the UFB killer app”?

Video is the simple answer. It’s not the only answer. We’ve been using video communications tools such as Facetime and Skype with success since the early days of ADSL. Video conferencing worked up to a point on dial-up connections. It worked better on ADSL and performs fine on most copper-based VDSL connections.

The same goes for streaming video entertainment. You can, at a pinch, watch it on all but the most feeble connection. True, you get a better experience on a faster connection. And there’s little point trying to watch a high definition movie if you have slow internet.

High definition video

Yet even HD video works fine on a VDSL connection. You need to have rarified tastes to need more than, say a 30 Mbps connection.

Sure, 100 Mbps plus is necessary if more than one person in your house is watching at the same time. And, yet, Vodafone does specify that you need a 100 Mbps connection to watch Vodafone TV.

Fibre improves the video experience mainly because it is faster. It’s also more reliable, less prone to outages.

Speed is the real killer app for fibre-based broadband. Faster broadband means you can do things that were either marginal or flaky with copper connections.

What about wireless?

Many fixed wireless broadband customers are able to get speeds that are fast enough to watch streaming video. Most of the time. There are issues.

First, fixed wireless bandwidth is shared. That means if you live in a neighbourhood with lots of other fixed wireless broadband connections, the performance can drop when everyone else is online. The can mean peak evening TV viewing hours.

Second, for now, the fixed wireless broadband plans on sale in New Zealand have data caps. That means you only get so many video viewing hours each month. That’s fine if you’re a light TV watcher, but is a deal breaker for many.

Even when everything is working fine, fixed wireless broadband connections tend to be slower and less reliable than fibre connections. Technology may change that — one day. For now, you can’t be guaranteed there will always be enough speed.

In today’s word, speed is the killer app.

2degrees has signed a multi-year backhaul contract with Chorus. The deal replaces a mix of services from providers including Spark and Vocus.

The network will connect UFB points of presence and data centres to the international network. 2degrees says it now has a fully diverse and highly resilient network that transports voice and data worldwide.

It’s a strategic move for both companies. At 2degrees it marks the latest step as the seven-year-old mobile carrier emerges as a full-service telco. It is now New Zealand’s third largest retail telecommunications carrier.

Future proof

Mark Petrie, 2degrees chief fixed officer says: “By combining 100Gbps links into our network we’re future proofing our ability to support the ever-increasing data demands of the country’s largest enterprises, for whom having this capability is critical.”

The deal marks the first national customer to sign for Chorus’ 100Gbps nation-wide fibre backbone network. Chorus’ chief commercial officer, Tim Harris describes 2degrees as an important strategic partner for Chorus.

While it is an important business win for Chorus, there’s an even greater significance. It marks the national wholesale network provider’s move away from regulated monopoly services into a more competitive space. This gives Chorus a route away from settling down as a mere utility provider into more commercial areas.

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.

northpower 10Gbps

Whangarei-based fibre provider Northpower says it has demonstrated 10Gbps network speeds.

A press release from Northpower partner Calix says this is the world’s first live test of its NG-Pon2 technology.

Northpower’s test served 10Gbps to both a business and to a residential home.

NG-Pon2 is a standard developed by the International Telecommunications Union. It is backwards compatible with existing Pon networks, so, in theory, could roll out across the entire New Zealand UFB network.

In Whangarei, Northpower used the same Calix software defined network technology it uses elsewhere to achieve 10Gbps. Calix Gigahubs handled the customer end.

Symmetric means 10Gbps up and down

NG-Pon can handle up to 40Gbps of total capacity and speeds of up to 10Gbps per customer. It’s symmetrical, so the 10Gbps speed is both up and down.

A feature of NG-Pon2 is that is uses multiple wavelengths on a single fibre. A network operator can divide these up for use by different service providers without needing separate Pons. In practice, providers can change or update services without interfering with other providers.

Northpower says it plans to expand the use of NG-Pon2 on its network.

It says a benefit of the Calix SDN is that it reduces the need for frequent hardware upgrades. This keeps costs down.

Of course nobody needs fibre that fast today. But that’s not the point. At the dawn of personal computing Microsoft boss Bill Gates said computers would never need more than 640K of ram. Look how that turned out.

Virtual reality applications are on the way which will easily use 1Gbps. Northpower customers will be able to run that and still have headroom for other applications.

Northpower has shown there’s a straightforward upgrade path to 10Gbps. It’ll be ready when speed demands rise. And it’s there today for any Whangarei resident with say, a large hadron collider in their garden.

touched-by-the-hand-of-god

Spark has extended its streamlined street-in-a-week fibre installation trial to include Chorus UFB coverage areas.

The goal is to spend a week focusing on fibre installations for residents of a single street. This means fast-tracking connections and giving customers a specific day for their installation.

Last month Spark began a similar project with Ultrafast Fibre.

Spark’s first foray with Chorus will be in Whakatane in the week starting December 12. It says it will upgrade as many as 400 homes that now have Spark copper broadband connections to UFB fibre.

In theory UFB installs should take about a week to ten days. In practice the process is often prolonged and involves three site visits. Normally homeowners need to be on site for at least two of the visits and they usually happen on different days.

Spark says concentrating teams and resources within a small geographic area for a week means it and Chorus can deliver an accelerated installation process. The teams work collaboratively on the jobs. It also means customers should only need to be at home for a single day.

It’s interesting to see Spark and Chorus co-operating on this project. Since separation, the two companies have been wary of getting too close to each other. The Commerce Commission would take an interest if relations were too cosy.

On the other hand, there was a cooling of relations earlier in the year when Spark ran an aggressive campaign criticising the copper network and pushing fixed wireless broadband as an  alternative.

The pair both stand to gain if they can move customers on to fibre. So a degree of co-operation makes sense.