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Taranaki Digital Infrastructure Update Back to News
10th May 2017 12:02am
Prepared by Venture Taranaki

Since 2011 there has been significant investment in the digital infrastructure of New Zealand, including Taranaki, particularly in the provision of broadband.  Much of this investment has been supported by Government with the intention of encouraging economic development.

Broadband Definitions

Broadband provides transmission capacity greater than 2 Megabits per second (Mbps). This definition was made several years ago and by current standards 2 Mbps is now not very fast.

Ultrafast broadband is faster – more than 25 Mbps. Again this definition is several years old and 25 Mbps is no longer considered genuinely fast – though it still meets the majority of business and consumer needs.

The Government supported ultrafast broadband rollout (UFB) is targeting 100 Mbps download and 50 Mbps upload. In Taranaki people and businesses with UFB can, if they wish to pay more, get even faster services (up to gigabit or 1,000 Mbps download).

How is broadband provided?

Broadband is provided by:
  • Copper wire (DSL or Digital Subscriber Line)
  • Remotely via wireless, cellular or high level geostationary satellite
  • Or increasingly via optical fibre
Other options are possible in future e.g. networks of balloons or low level satellites are being explored for remote broadband transmission.

Copper wire is limited in capacity and variable in speed but the network is in place.  Parties close to cabinets can get up to around 24 Mbps which is currently adequate for most purposes. Speed drops quickly with distance from cabinets and remains limited in more isolated rural areas.

Wireless and cellular services enable cost effective coverage in rural areas with line of sight to transmitters. Cellular coverage requires relatively expensive towers and is difficult to get to isolated hilly areas. Wireless methods involve a network of smaller and lower cost transmitters but still has challenges in hilly areas.

High level geostationary satellites (in orbit around 36,000km above the earth) give nationwide coverage but can have latency and capacity issues.

Fibre is cost effective to provide in cities and larger towns but expensive to provide in rural areas. It can provide considerably more speed and capacity than copper wire.

Government investment round 1

In 2011 the New Zealand Government committed:
  • $1.5 billion to building a UFB network to deliver UFB to 75% of New Zealanders (“UFB1”)
  • $285 million to a rural broadband initiative to deliver coverage to 80% of rural households plus fibre to rural schools and healthcare providers

These funds were extended by private sector investment.

The Taranaki component of UFB1 involved Hamilton-based Ultrafast Fibre Limited (“UFF”) installing fibre in New Plymouth, Oakura, Hawera and Normanby. This initial UFB1 rollout in Taranaki was completed by 2016.

The Taranaki component of RBI1 involved fibre being rolled out to schools and healthcare providers by Chorus, new cabinets to improve copper wire coverage being installed by Chorus, and new towers being built by Vodafone to extend their wireless and cellular coverage. This initial rollout of RBI1 is also complete.

Other providers

At the same time other providers were also extending their networks to improve broadband coverage.  In Taranaki for example:
  • Chorus also provides fibre to a range of business customers and has further extended its copper wire coverage
  • Spark also provide wireless and cellular coverage
  • Primo Wireless provides a network of wireless coverage that extends into more isolated areas than served by other providers.  Locally owned Primo’s network includes many relatively low cost and low power sites targeted at small areas.
A number of internet service providers sell services using these networks.

Government investment round 2

In 2015 the Government decided to extend its investment in broadband rollout with a second round of funding for UFB2 and RBI2. At the same time it also announced funding for a new Mobile Black Spot Fund to provide better mobile phone coverage on isolated state highways and tourism areas.

In 2015 the Government also announced its aspirational targets for broadband connectivity by 2025:
  • 99% of New Zealanders will have access to 50Mbps broadband
  • The remaining 1% will have access to 10 Mbps.
There is also a target that 90% of the population will have 4G mobile coverage by the end of 2019.

In combination the Government suggests these targets means that by 2025 at least 80% of New Zealanders will have access to a network capable of 1 Gigabit per second speeds and near universal broadband of 50 Mbps.  The 1% of the population targeted to have access to 10 Mbps broadband by 2025 will largely be in more isolated rural areas of New Zealand.  It is likely this will include parts of eastern Taranaki hill country.

The 2015 announcement targeted $360m of Government investment at various programmes:
  • Between $152 and $210m was earmarked for UFB fibre to be extended to at least 80% of the population by UFB2
  • $100m was targeted at improving rural broadband via RBI2
  • $50m was targeted at the mobile blackspot fund.

UFB2

In January 2017 it was confirmed that UFB2 would involve fibre being installed in Urenui, Patea, Manaia, Opunake, Okato, Eltham, Inglewood, Stratford and Waitara.  Ultrafast Fibre Limited has won the contract to install in Eltham, Inglewood, Stratford and Waitara with Chorus winning the contract to install in the other towns.

The timing of the UFB2 rollout has not yet been confirmed though UFF noted they hoped to begin within 6 months of the January announcement. Chorus has not yet made a public announcement on timing of its programme of work.

At the time the funding for UFB2 was announced in 2015 it was expected that UFB2 would be complete by 2022.

RBI2

In late 2016 a tender was released for providers to bid for RBI2. It is likely there will be funding for improved coverage in Taranaki but it is uncertain where this will be and when it will happen.

Mobile Blackspot Fund

Similarly in late 2016 a tender was released for the mobile blackspot fund. A suggested list of highways was released including State Highway 3 to the north of Taranaki and State Highway 43 through from Stratford to Taumarunui (the Forgotten World Highway).  It is again still uncertain when the successful tenderers and their areas of coverage will be announced.

Low power long range network – a complement to broadband

For the past decade or so much of the focus on digital infrastructure investment has been on the provision of broadband.

More recently there has been another intriguing focus for investment. The development of Internet of Things (“IoT”) technology has created an opportunity for a different kind of communications infrastructure known as the low power long range segment.

A good example of IoT technology is a battery operated sensor on a beehive that collects data on the beehive and transmits this data on a regular basis. This data is then collated and analysed via software used online by the apiarist. While the apiarist will need a broadband connection to use the software, the data transmitted by the sensors in the hives does not need the bandwidth and power of a full broadband connection.  It can be transmitted via a lower cost, lower power network.

Other examples of the products that could be serviced by this sort of network include fleet management, goods tracking, livestock tracking, environmental monitoring, industrial process control, smart metering, parking sensors, smart lighting, alarm systems and home automation.

This is a mix of urban and rural opportunities.

New Zealand company KotahiNet is starting to build a national network to service this market and trying to raise funds to extend it nationwide. It is possible other parties will also enter this market. While not “broadband” such a network would enable the economic provision of products and services we traditionally think of as being delivered via broadband.

The provision of a service like this may be particularly beneficial to rural New Zealand especially those areas where the provision of cellular services is limited.



 
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