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.

FibreX 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.

Competing with Chorus and 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.

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