The NZ VDSL stepping stone arrives four years late

Telecom New Zealand this week announced its rollout of VDSL — the copper-based broadband technology promising speeds three to four times that of ADSL lines.
Written by Darren Greenwood, Contributor

On VDSL, Telecom New Zealand has spoken of downstream speeds of 15Mbps to 70Mbps, which is not far short of the 100Mbps promised by fibre-based Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB). The company claims VDSL offers customers a "stepping stone" to UFB, which may not arrive for some years yet.

VDSL is already available to around 60 percent of Kiwi homes, close enough to a phone exchange or cabinet, according to the telco.

Technology commentator Bill Bennett said the biggest winners from VDSL will be those in small towns, who may not otherwise get UFB or would face a lengthy wait.

But what was striking about the announcement was that Telecom's VDSL rollout was four years behind schedule, something that no one else seems to have picked up on.

If we go back to early 2009, we find ZDNet reporting that Telecom NZ would begin rolling out VDSL later that year.

By 2011, we had members of the Geekzone blog reporting its wholesale availability in New Zealand, but noting that Telecom did not offer VDSL to individuals.

And late in 2011, we had broadband monitor TrueNet commenting on the lack of VDSL in New Zealand, with Telecom now promising a 2012 rollout.

So here we are in 2013, finally getting what was promised in 2009.

So, what caused the delay? Some of the clues came in the comments left in this NBR article.

We can put some of it down to the influence of the government-subsidised UFB rollout.

At the start of 2009, Telecom had its own fibre-based broadband plans underway, as ZDNet also reported at the time.

The plans might not have been as extensive or fast as what we are now starting to receive, but they were real enough when the current National-led government was elected in November 2008 with a policy to implement UFB.

Telecom also underwent a huge amount of restructuring, with it splitting into two to meet the government-enforced split, creating wholesaler Chorus and Telecom Retail, so that it could take part in the UFB rollout.

As Chris Thompson, Telecom's head of consumer marketing told me by email:

"Telecom continues to prioritise the rollout of UFB as the future of customer internet connectivity."

In other words, VDSL was put on the backburner, while UFB got all the love and attention.

"Additionally, before we rolled VDSL out to our customers, we waited for Chorus to take their product out of soft launch and demonstrate a good service experience," Thompson also said.

Indeed, the NBR's Chris Keall even noted how the premium pricing of VDSL from Chorus hampered its take-up, with only smaller ISPs offering it.

Now, with Chorus reducing VDSL's wholesale costs to ADSL levels, Telecom has now launched VDSL, with other telcos and ISPs doing likewise.

Of course, with VDSL promising near-UFB speeds, the question has already been raised: Will the take-up of UFB be even slower?

I certainly hope not, especially considering the billions of dollars that telcos and the government are spending on UFB, which we are always told will deliver such a revolutionary experience.

"With that [experience] in mind, Telecom is offering VDSL in order to give customers a taste of the significant benefits that fibre will bring as the government-led UFB rollout continues. We believe Ultra Fibre will be the preferred technology where it's available (now and in the future), and that VDSL will provide a good stepping stone to that technology in the short term," Thompson also told me.

Considering how VDSL has played second fiddle to UFB, I find it ironic that UFB is now hanging on the coat-tails of the copper-based alternative it delayed.

It certainly is a case of better late than never.

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