NZ's farmers to harvest unspoken 4G bonus

One of the missed benefits of New Zealand's competing 4G rollouts is the increased connectivity that the country's Rural Broadband Initiative will bring.
Written by Darren Greenwood, Contributor

While media coverage has focused on Telecom New Zealand selecting Huawei for its 4G rollout, something perhaps more significant seems to have passed people by.

At the media launch, Telecom bosses spoke for a while about the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI), a sister plan to the New Zealand government's $1.5 billion Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) project.

Telecom and Vodafone are working together to deliver mobile broadband to the rural areas where it won't be economic to supply broadband using fibre. Mobile will be the way, though some of the more isolated areas might even use satellite.

But as also noticed by Paul Brislen, chief executive of the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand, 4G's impact on the rural sector could be its forte.

In a couple of blog posts over the past week, Brislen revealed that he has been trialling 4G and seems very happy with it, noting its speed and ability to give clear pictures of the videos he has been watching.

Vodafone and Telecom are installing 4G equipment at sites across the country, helped by a further subsidy from the government under the RBI. Since these rural mobile phone towers and cabinets are likely to receive less customers than urban ones, the speeds delivered to users are likely to be higher.

Furthermore, when the government auctions off the 700MHz frequencies from the increasingly redundant analogue TV network, there will be a further boost to rural broadband.

700MHz is said to cover a greater distance than 1,400Mhz, and hills and other obstacles present less of a problem.

It all means that rural users should be in for some excellent coverage in the next few years, with Vodafone and Telecom competing hard for such customers.

Indeed, with both Vodafone and Telecom now revealing their 4G rollouts, competition between both networks has certainly stepped up, with talk of a "4G war", which can only be good for consumers.

Just a few years back, I posted on how farmers were unhappy at the state of the country's rural broadband. There has been recent commentary about the lack of progress to date, but it is clear that improvement is underway.

Vodafone has a map showing the existing RBI coverage, and it looks like the country's dairy farmers have been the first to receive the RBI. But considering that they are the country's economic backbone, this is the least New Zealand can give them.

In the meantime, it's all go at Telecom. Not only does it have its 4G rollout to contend with, but it also has what appears like further restructuring from its boss Simon Moutter, plus a prospective Gen-I purchase of Revera, to give it further government contracts.

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