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Spark and Chorus partner on fibre installation trials

New Zealand providers Spark and Chorus will be offering 400 premises in Whakatane an accelerated fibre connection process as part of a pilot program to speed up installations.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

New Zealand telecommunications providers Spark and Chorus have announced that they will partner on a week-long trial of Spark's "street in a week" fibre installation program.

The trials between the two telcos, beginning on December 12, will take place in Whakatane and involve 400 premises being offered a fibre upgrade from their legacy copper service.

"By concentrating teams and resources within a small geographic area for the week of the trial, Chorus will be able to deliver an accelerated installation process as teams work collaboratively," Spark explained.

"The customer should only need to be at home for one day."

Chorus said it is willing to work with retail service providers to provide fibre broadband connectivity on connecting customers in a faster way.

Earlier this month, Spark announced the upgrade program for customers who remain on the copper network, planning to provide Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) fibre upgrades street by street on a faster, more reliable basis. Spark and Ultrafast Fibre have already conducted a pilot of the program in Hamilton.

The program was introduced in response to the sector being plagued with complaints about delays in connecting fibre broadband services. 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 at the beginning of November.

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

Spark also said 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."

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.

The United Kingdom also recently moved to a full-fibre broadband rollout, with the government last week announcing that it will be investing over £1 billion to kickstart private investment in the sector in order to roll out fibre broadband to every home and business.

Last month, Google Fiber halted its rollout of FttP across the United States due to the costs inherent in funding the project.

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