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Gigatown

Chorus says it will offer gigabit fibre services starting next month making every town a Gigatown. It joins Enable Networks, Northpower Fibre and Ultrafast Fibre who all plan to launch gigabit wholesale broadband services in October.

From next month they will all offer download speeds of 1Gbps with uploads running at 500Mbps.

If customers take up the offer[1], the gigabit upgrade could catapult New Zealand up the global broadband speed ranking.

Chorus says it will sell residential wholesale gigabit services for $60 a month. That’s an introductory offer to get everyone hooked. From June 2017 the price will rise to $65. The business service is $75.

ISPs quick to react

Within minutes of Chorus’ announcement, MyRepublic said it would offer gigabit services in all UFB areas. Customers signing for a 24-month plan get the first six months at the wholesale rate and pay $120 a month for the rest of the term.

Spark is already taking orders for gigabit fibre plans. Orcon plans to launch gigabit services as soon as they are available.

One of the smaller ISPs, Tauranga-based Full Flavour has been quick off the block. It now sells gigabit services and says more than 3000 local businesses in Tauranga are able to take up the offer.

Another regional ISP, Taranaki’s Primo Wireless, also offers gigabit plans.

Top gear

In a media statement Chorus says its gigabit service: “Will run at the maximum speed the network electronics allows today. In practice this means customers will see download speeds of between 900Mbps and 970Mbps and upload speeds of up to 500Mbps.”

No-one is going to quibble about the difference between 900Mbps and 1Gbps because no-one will notice.

In some ways the numbers are meaningless. Once you get past 100Mbps[2], broadband speeds are more about marketing than technical practicalities.

A normal New Zealand home will struggle to use 100Mbps. Even so, Dunedin residents were keen to sign up for Gigatown accounts.

Streams of high resolution television

Gaming aside, the most demanding domestic application is 4K television and that can stream well enough inside the lowest priced 30Mbps fibre services. You’d need half a dozen 4K televisions to put pressure on a 100Mbps link.

Even hospitals and medical practices running high-end imaging equipment will struggle to make use of the high speeds. Gigabit internet might be useful if you plan to build a large hadron collider in your garage.

Yet things change. High-resolution virtual reality entertainment looms on the horizon. If it takes off, it could see households bump up against today’s speed limits. Who knows what else might be on the way?

Back in the here and now, 1Gbps means users are buying a lot of headroom. That can be helpful. A car with a top speed of more than 200kph might be overkill for driving around town. Yet when the chips are down on a rural overtaking lane, extra grunt at the top can get you out of trouble.


    1. Chorus says there are 5000 Gigatown subscribers in Dunedin. That shows there is clear demand for faster internet services.  ↩
  1. That’s now most fibre users. You have to wonder why anyone buys 30Mbps fibre plans. Communications minister Amy Adams says between March and June 2016, 87 percent of new residential connections were for 100Mbps services or higher. Nine percent of new connections are 200Mbps or above.  ↩

Stuff fibreFairfax’s softly-softly entry into New Zealand’s crowded fibre market launches today.

It’s anything but a unique proposition — no fibre-only ISP can do that in a world of regulated wholesale services — but Stuff Fibre ticks the important boxes.

The service is 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up with no data caps.

Unlimited data

Stuff Fibre says it offers: “Unlimited data, no fixed-term contracts, simple billing and local customer service”. There’s also a tool to help parents check children’s internet use.

While these are all crowd pleasers and likely to push Stuff Fibre up most buyer’s list of choices, the most important feature is the $90 a month subscription price. This sits in the middle of the market.

In a world of largely undifferentiated fibre services price, performance and reliability matter more than anything else.

We won’t know about performance and reliability until later.

Stuff Fibre mid-price service

Stuff Fibre is $5 cheaper a month than the market leader. Spark’s price for a 100 Mbps plan with unlimited data is $95. Vodafone’s 100 Mbps unlimited plan is $91.

Spark’s no-frills Big Pipe subsidiary offers a similar plan for $80 a month.

It’s going to be hard work making this project pay-off for Fairfax.

Fairfax has gone for a low-key launch. Apart from a soft, but hardly gushing promotional story by Tom Pullar-Strecker tucked away in the BusinessDay section of the Stuff site, there’s little fanfare.

At the time of writing the front page of Stuff is dominated by a page wrap advertisement for Mercedes. None of the advertisements on the front page are for Stuff Fibre.

stuff fibre twitter

The new ISP’s Twitter @stuff_fibre account shows a single promoted tweet, nothing from Stuff Fibre staff and only nine followers.

Waikato Networks

Waikato Networks has taken full ownership Ultrafast Fibre three and a half years ahead of schedule. The move is a vote of confidence in the New Zealand government’s plan to build a wholesale fibre network covering urban areas.

The company is a subsidiary of WEL Networks. It paid $189 million to buy Ultrafast Fibre which was jointly owned with Crown Fibre Holdings (CFH).

Ultrafast Fibre is the local fibre company for the central North Island. It has fibre installed in Hamilton, Te Awamutu, Cambridge, Tauranga, Hawera, Tokoroa, New Plymouth and Whanganui. The company’s fibre network reaches 190,000 homes.

Waikato Networks user numbers

At the time of writing the company has connected 51,000 end users, an uptake of 28 percent.

While CFH is no longer a shareholder, the government agency will maintain contractual oversight over products, network performance and customer connections until 2019.

Communications Minister Amy Adams says: “On settlement, the Crown will have received $189 million, or 95 percent, of its original $198 million investment, three and a half years early. This deal delivers enormous value for money for taxpayers.”

And so it is. Despite a low uptake in its early years and a few regulatory niggles, New Zealand’s ultrafast broadband roll-out has been a success. Just compare what is happening here with the continuing NBN mess in Australia.

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.”

Chorus Van
Chorus Van

New Zealand’s media was quick to report stories about Chorus fibre install complaints this week.

Stuff went first on Monday with Problems linger with Chorus ultra-fast broadband rollout.

Not to be outdone, Tuesday’s The New Zealand Herald reported:

Fibre-optic cables for ultra-fast broadband have been installed across fences and through gardens in some Auckland homes – leaving residents concerned.

Internet users raised the issue with the Herald after discovering the cables scattered across their driveway, garden or taped to a fence.

The NZ Herald pictures came from Joe Thornley’s Howick home.

Thornley’s home snaps also showed up a day later at Radio New Zealand for Chorus responds to shoddy installation claims.

The Chorus fibre install complaints could leave you with the impression the UFB roll-out is one big botched job.

Sure there have been mishaps but the figures paint a different picture.

Radio New Zealand’s report quotes two numbers from Chorus CEO Mark Ratcliffe:

  • “Chorus was doing 600 jobs a day”.
  • …“getting 50 complaints a week about poor installations.”

Assuming Chorus works five days a week, that’s an error rate of around 1.5 percent or one in 60. A decent result for any large-scale public engineering project.

Given the spread out nature of New Zealand towns, physical and financial challenges compared to say, rolling out broadband in Singapore, and dealing with often difficult access it looks like success, not failure.

Disclosure: I wrote this story about Chorus fibre install complaints two years ago. Since then I have been editing The Download. It’s a Chorus-owned magazine that covers the telecommunications sector and how people use communications technologies.