Spark to install fibre to the premises in street-by-street process

Spark has said it will improve FttP installation efficiency by focusing on upgrading 'one street a week', with customers able to choose the day it is installed.

New Zealand telecommunications provider Spark has announced an upgrade program for its customers remaining on the legacy copper network, planning to provide Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) fibre upgrades street by street on a faster, more reliable basis.

Calling it the "street in a week" fibre-installation process, Spark said it would improve efficiency following reports that complaints about delays in connecting fibre broadband services have been rapidly increasing.

The telco will initially trial "street in a week" across 400 premises in Nawton, Grandview Heights, and Western Heights in Hamilton this month.

Through the program, customers will be able to select a specific day within a specified week to have their fibre broadband service installed. This will remove the middleman local fibre companies (LFCs), with customers no longer having to enter a queue to be served by these LFCs after placing an order with their retail service provider.

"The current process involves a great deal of 'to-ing and fro-ing' between the customer, their service provider, the fibre company, and the contracting technicians who actually carry out the installation," Spark said on Wednesday.

"It can take several weeks or longer for installations to take place."

According to Spark Home Mobile and Business CEO Jason Paris, the "street in a week" UFB installation trial is expected to yield successful results wherein the process is more streamlined and predictable.

"Spark has been a big supporter of the UFB fibre rollout, with a 43 percent share of the fibre broadband market," Paris said.

"However, while our customers tell us that they love fibre when they get it, the process of getting it installed is often problematic and can involve lots of hassle. For many customers, that can prove a turnoff as the installation process seems just too hard."

Spark added that it is important to move people off the "fault-prone copper", as fibre is more reliable.

"Chorus copper lines are a legacy technology; they are getting older and are increasingly prone to faults," Spark said.

"Every month, Spark logs around 30,000 requests with Chorus for customers who report faults on their broadband or landline services that rely on a Chorus copper line connection -- and these volumes increase over the wet winter months. It is not uncommon for some unfortunate customers to experience multiple faults within a few months, each requiring investigation by Chorus technicians."

Customers utilising the legacy copper network are more than 50 times more likely to report a fault than those on the Spark mobile network, Kayne Munro, Spark's head of wireless broadband, added.

Last month, a report on telecommunications complaints by the Telecommunications Forum (TCF), made up of telco operators across New Zealand, revealed that consumer complaints about delays in connecting premises to UFB fibre have skyrocketed.

"The typical complaint is that the scheme member signs the customer up to the fibre service with an indicative commencement date. This date passes with no service being connected," the report said.

"It appears that the scheme members, in notifying the installation date, rely on information provided by the fibre installation companies. The installation companies do not then complete the work on time."

According to Consumer NZ CEO Sue Chetwin, third-party installers are unable to keep up with demand.

"Chorus, the infrastructure company that has the major contracts to install Ultra-Fast Broadband ... what they're promising they can't really deliver at the moment -- there's just not enough people to do it," Chetwin explained in relation to fibre connection delays.

"So increasingly, there are complaints about service people not turning up, or shonky installations ... the CEO of Spark just said a week or so ago that frustrated customers were cancelling their fibre contracts due to installation delays. So two-thirds of those who got connected were unhappy with the process."

Chorus last month boasted that it has shortened the length of time that consumers are waiting for their fibre to be connected, from 16 days in the July quarter down to 12 days on average.

Chorus added that customers in Auckland are waiting just six business days for their connections to be made now, with the telecommunications provider attributing the uptick in "fibre productivity" to signing on Visionstream as its primary connector.

Fibre connection crews were also increased from 524 to 552 over the last three months.

Chorus' UFB rollout is now 58 percent complete and will cover 80 percent of the population. It already allows for speeds of up to 1Gbps using fibre to the premises (FttP). The Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) will provide broadband for 20 percent of the New Zealand population.

The New Zealand government is targeting 99 percent of the population with 50Mbps minimum broadband speeds by 2020, with the remaining 1 percent to have speeds of at least 10Mbps.

By comparison, the Australian government's National Broadband Network (NBN) project will rely on the legacy copper network for the foreseeable future, using a technology mix of fibre to the node, fibre to the basement, and fibre to the distribution point, along with FttP, hybrid fibre-coaxial, fixed-wireless, and satellite.

The NBN will provide 100 percent of the population with minimum speeds of 25Mbps by 2020.

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