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Telecommunications companies will no longer need to apply to local authorities for resource consent when installing everyday infrastructure.

This applies to frequently deployed infrastructure such as small cell hardware, street cabinets, cabling and antenna on lighting poles so long as the equipment meets national standards.

The rule change is thanks to the National Environmental Standard for Telecommunications Facilities legislation that communications minister Amy Adams and environment minister Nick Smith announced yesterday. It comes in to force from January 1.

A statement from the communications minister’s office says the aim is to make it quicker and easier for New Zealanders to connect to newer and better communications technologies. This applies to the nationwide fibre roll-out, Rural Broadband Initiative technologies and the hardware needed for 4G mobile.

Red tape reforms late in the day

One might wonder why it has taken until the government supported UFB project is three-quarters of the way to completion before making these changes. Life would have been easier for everyone if the government changed the rules before the fibre roll-out began.

Geoff Thorn, CEO of the TCF, says this is a positive move: “As an industry, we support the government’s decision to amend the NES, so it keeps pace with the demands of today’s fast-moving telecommunications technology. In particular we’re pleased the government has recognised the importance of broadband and mobile communications in both community life and today’s economy.”

At present obtaining resource consents is complex. Thorn says there are 67 different local authorities to deal with. He says the rule changes will increase certainty and cut time and cost.

Fast Chorus van

At the New Zealand Herald Sophie Boot writes:

Chorus, the telecommunications network operator, will continue to provide free non-standard[1] residential ultrafast broadband installations until 2019, under an agreement with Crown Fibre Holdings which could see its debt repayments to the government entity delayed.

The could part of that sentence is complicated.

There is a regulatory review in the pipeline. The Telecommunications Act will be updated by the end of 2019. That’s about the time Chorus and the local fibre companies will finish the first stage of the UFB network build.

Building block regulatory model

One of the proposals is to move to a building block regulatory model. If that happens, the cost of non-standard installations will most likely become part of the regulated asset base. In effect they become investments and Chorus will be able to earn a regulated return on the costs.

Chorus chief financial officer Andrew Carroll says: “In the event that this hasn’t occurred by 31 December 2020, or not all of Chorus’ actual UFB non-standard installation costs are included in the asset base, the dates on which Chorus must redeem or provide dividends on the CFH debt and equity securities will be postponed.”

Delay

In other words the debt repayments are delayed.

The Wellington-based company won the lion’s share of the government’s programme to build a fibre telecommunications network to 75 per cent of the country, a target which has since been extended to 80 per cent.

The first stage of the UFB programme will reach the 75 percent of the population living in cities and towns. It is due to finish by the end of 2019. The government plans a second phase that will extend the reach to about 80 percent.

Chorus has previously estimated the fibre network will cost between $1.75 billion and $1.8 billion to build, and forecast capital expenditure of between $580 million and $630 million in 2016. It has been providing funding for residential non-standard installations since late 2012, initially funding $20 million, which it increased to $28 million in 2014.

There was always going to be some way of extending the free non-standard installs. Apart from anything else, not doing so would be a political problem for the government. Yet the available money for this may not be open ended.

If you think you might want a fibre connection in the future and you live in a place which looks non-standard, it would make sense to take up the connection offer as soon as the fibre is laid in your area. If you leave it beyond the end of the UFB build, you may get caught with the installation cost.


  1. Non-standard UFB installations are usually where someone lives down a long drive way, a right-of-way or in an apartment.  ↩

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.

New Zealand’s second largest ISP, Vodafone, says it will soon offer gigabit fibre plans.

The price in the Northpower, Enable and Ultra Fast Fibre UFB areas will be $140 a month. It says “Elsewhere”, read that as the Chorus UFB area, prices will be released in the “near future”.

Vodafone stands out from the service provider pack in two important ways. First, it owns a vertically integrated cable network in Wellington, Christchurch and the Kapiti Coast.

Second, it is working towards a merger with Sky TV which will put it in the box seat for local sport, movie and television services.

Gigabit upgrade

Vodafone has rebranded its hybrid fibre-coaxial network as FibreX. The company’s consumer director Matt Williams says there has been a $22 million investment upgrading this network for gigabit services.

Williams says there will be a compelling offer for customers in the network area to upgrade in the near future. Most observers expect that to include a bundled price that includes SkyTV services.

Vodafone’s FibreX price will be interesting. Because the UFB network will overbuild the FibreX network, there’s a competitive constraint on the amount Vodafone can charge set by the fibre network wholesalers.

At the same time, the FibreX network is vertically integrated, so there is no-one clipping the ticket.

What you’ll pay for gigabit fibre broadband

2degrees  $140
Bigpipe  $129
full flavour  $110
My Republic  $120
Orcon  $135
Primo Wireless  $129
Spark  $140
Stuff Fibre  $115
Vodafone $140

 

MyRepublic charges $60 for the first six months for customers signing a 24-month contract. Over the period of the contract, the monthly fee works out at $105.

Orcon customers signing for 24 months get an Xbox One S.

There is a $50 installation fee at Bigpipe but no contracts.

Existing Spark broadband customers get the Lightbox video-on-demand service and free access to the nationwide wi-fi hotspot network. There’s also a $10 a month discount when a mobile phone is on the same account.

Full Flavour is running a promotion where new customers pay only $100 a month for the first 12 months. There are no long-term contracts and installation is free.

Prices are complicated at 2degrees. A connection costs $95 a month, then you pay $45 for a 1Gbps “speed boost”. Customers signing for 24-months pay $60 a month for the first 12-months. The monthly cost over the full period of the contract works out at around $124 a month. There’s a $10 a month discount to 2degrees phone customers.

The short answer to the question is gigabit fibre costs “less than you might think”.

If you live in parts of New Zealand covered by the Ultrafast Broadband network, you can now download data at gigabit speeds. Most of the time that means services running at 1Gbps down and 500Mbps up.

Prices in Dunedin, winner of the Chorus Gigatown promotion, hover around $90 for an unlimited plan. In the rest of the country you can expect to pay around $120.

Unlimited gigabit fibre plans are a little more expensive than unlimited 100Mbps fibre plans, perhaps $10 to $2o a month extra depending on the service provider.

Either way, gigabit fibre won’t break the bank. And they are cheap by historic standards. Twenty years ago an ISDN line in Auckland, that’s a 128kbps dial-up connection, cost $50 a month plus $3 an hour.

Unless you have modest internet needs you should choose an unlimited data plan. If you have modest internet needs, what are you doing looking at gigabit services?

Gigabit fibre plans

Here we’ve listed the headline prices. That is, what you can expect to pay every month for an unlimited 1Gbps service. These may differ from the prices you see advertised because some service providers offer discounted starting rates for a limited period at the start of a 24 month contract.

2degrees  $140
Bigpipe  $129
full flavour  $110
My Republic  $120
Orcon  $135
Primo Wireless  $129
Spark  $140
Stuff Fibre  $115

Prices are lower in Dunedin thanks to the Gigatown promotion. Wicked Networks sells an unlimited gigabit plan in the city for $90 a month.

MyRepublic charges $60 for the first six months for customers signing a 24-month contract. Over the period of the contract the monthly fee works out at $105.

Orcon customers signing for 24 months get an Xbox One S.

There is a $50 installation fee at Bigpipe but no contracts.

Full Flavour is running a promotion where new customers pay only $100 a month for the first 12 months. There are no long-term contracts and installation is free.

Prices are complicated at 2degrees. A connection costs $95 a month, then you pay $45 for a 1Gbps “speed boost”. Customers signing for 24 months pay $60 a month for the first 12 months. The monthly cost over the full period of the contract works out at around $124 a month. Since this was written Slingshot is selling gigabit fibre for less than $100 a month.

List updated to note different price structure for gigabit plans in Dunedin.