NBN: Fibre to the world

Summary:In this feature, ZDNet explores how fibre deployments across the UK, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States are being achieved, at what cost, whether they have been successful, and how they compare to Australia's NBN.

New Zealand

  • Project: Fibre to the premises with part fibre to the cabinet and wireless component

  • Area: 268,021 km2

  • Population: 4.5 million

  • Premises to be passed: 1.35 million by fibre to the premises

  • Percentage: 75 percent for fibre, 97.8 percent in total including wireless and fibre to the cabinet

  • Cost: NZ$1.5 billion (AU$1.2 billion) from government for fibre to be "at least matched by the private sector", NZ$300 million (AU$238 million) for regional areas

  • Government/private/mix: Public-private partnership with four companies

Australia's neighbour across the Tasman, New Zealand, is investing NZ$1.5 billion, with the private sector to "at least match" that investment, to roll out an open-access fibre-to-the-premises network to 33 towns and cities representing 75 percent of the country's 4.5 million population by 2019.

It was first announced as part of the election campaign of the conservative-leaning National Party, led by now-Prime Minister John Key in 2008. In February 2009, even before Australia had announced its own fibre-to-the-premises rollout, then-Communications Minister Steven Joyce explained why a fibre-to-the-premises network was needed in New Zealand.

"Most of us are still reliant on copper to link us up with the main fibre network. While copper was cutting edge 10 years ago, it's a Morris Minor compared with the Ferrari fibre we need to compete. Copper has done very well, but it can't carry the amount of data at the right speed to service the internet applications that we will come to rely on," he said.

"The volumes of data and the speed that copper can carry it at are just not even comparable to fibre. There is no doubt in my mind that the future for broadband will involve replacing copper with fibre."

The rollout is being done as a private-public partnership headed by the government-owned Crown Fibre in conjunction with Northpower, Ultrafast Fibre, Enable Services, and Chorus. The latter, a separated entity from Telecom New Zealand, gets the lion's share of the rollout, at 69.4 percent.

Explaining the government's decision to invest in the project back in 2009, Joyce said the New Zealand economy stood to make between NZ$2.4 billion and NZ$4.4 billion per year in benefits, and the country couldn't afford to wait for private investment to replace the copper network.

"Left to the market, the replacement of the bulk of the copper access network with fibre could take a long time, possibly more than 30 years. As a country, we can't afford to wait that long," he said.

The focus has been on schools, businesses, hospitals, and greenfields sites initially, and it is expected that the network will pass 1.2 million premises by 2019. Unlike the NBN, where the rollout is targeting metropolitan and remote areas, New Zealand is targeting areas of high demand, or where there is high density and the government can build on existing networks.

"Left to the market, the replacement of the bulk of the copper access network with fibre could take a long time, possibly more than 30 years. As a country, we can't afford to wait that long."
— Steven Joyce

Wholesale prices offered on the network are set by Crown Fibre. Around 50 internet service providers have signed up to offer services over the network, and early retail pricing plans on the network range from NZ$69 to NZ$229.

New Zealand has fewer tiers for plans on the fibre compared to Australia. Just two are on offer at the moment: 30Mbps down and 10Mbps up; or 100Mbps down and 50Mbps up.

The take-up on the network has been generally slow in New Zealand. As of the end of December 2012, 131,366 premises had been passed, with a total of 3,806 users taking up services so far. To have the fibre rolled out to a premises, there is no cost if the premises is 200 metres or less from the curb. There was originally a charge in excess of 15 metres from the curb, but this was extended at the cost of NZ$20 million in order to get more customers to sign up for fibre services.

The government has a separate NZ$300 million program for regional New Zealand to roll out fibre to schools, as well as having Vodafone New Zealand upgrade and build more mobile towers, and for Chorus to roll out fibre to the cabinet in rural areas, offering speeds of up to 20Mbps. So far, New Zealand has upgraded 131 of 387 towers, and built 30 of 154 new towers. Chorus has upgraded 347 of the 1,224 cabinets, with 36,100 households reached so far.

The combination of the two programs will mean that by the end of 2019, 97.8 percent of the New Zealand population will have access to faster broadband.

Topics: NBN


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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