Geekzone: technology news, blogs, forums
Welcome Guest.
You haven't logged in yet. If you don't have an account you can register now.
UFB at halfway point — is everybody happy?
Posted on 23-Jun-2015 08:59 by Bill Bennett. | Tags Filed under: News.

Communications Minister Amy Adams says New Zealand’s government supported fibre network has hit the halfway point.

In a press release the minister says: “The UFB build is going from strength-to-strength, with fibre being rolled out to communities up and down the country. The project continues to be on budget and well ahead of schedule”.

There’s little question about the project being on budget that’s because Chorus shareholders have to find the lion’s share of the cost. The other network builders have to invest their own money too.

Well ahead of schedule sounds right. But that’s partly because the companies picked the low-hanging fruit first.

Anecdotally I hear the build in Auckland, which makes up more than a third of the total project, is running behind schedule. Meanwhile people living in apartments are a long way behind any schedule.

Going from strength-to-strength is debatable.


To date only one-in-eight of the people able to connect to fibre have signed-up. Given that the UFB builders cherry-picked the richest suburbs as the first to get fibre, this doesn’t bode well.

Also, as Chris Keall points out at the NBR: “…that number includes the schools that have received free connections, network management and free broadband from Crown company N4L”.

And then there are the widely reported congestion woes. Since March TrueNet, the broadband speed monitoring service, has been reporting on poor performance during the evening.

Streaming video peak time

This is the streaming video peak time. It turns out the networks can’t cope with thousands of consumers all watching Netflix at the same time.

Even the fibre-onlyMyRepublic service struggles. This suggests a need for further investment in backhaul and ISP provisioning.

You could argue congestion is a sign of New Zealand’s broadband network going from strength-to-strength. It means there’s a healthy demand for data services even if consumers aren’t in a hurry to switch to fibre.

Demand to grow?

Optimists assume fibre demand will grow as streaming video gathers momentum with consumers.

Radio New Zealand has followed another fibre story undermining the strength-to-strength message:
“Crown Fibre Holdings – which is in charge of the Government’s $2 billion UFB rollout – wanted to insure service providers such as Spark and Vodafone had to offer battery backup.”

There’s a remarkable Nine-to-noon interview where Katherine Ryan questions Chris Bishop, a policy and programme manager at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Fibre battery back-up

The man looks like either a liar or a fool as Ryan repeatedly asks why the ministry forced Crown Fibre Holdings to drop a requirement for ISPs to offer customer battery back-up.

Time after time Bishop trots out an implausible line about “wanting to offer consumers a choice”. It doesn’t begin to address the issue.

Radio New Zealand had to get an official information request to find out about the ministry leaning on Crown Fibre and CFH’s response putting its objection to the ministry on the record is just as enlightening.

Ryan nails the key point when she notes that when this was happening suitable backup batteries cost around $300. If consumers thought they’d face that as an upfront cost, they wouldn’t sign for fibre.

Fibre, batteries, power cuts

The issue is tricky. You need battery backup because unlike copper telephone networks, fibre doesn’t work in a power cut. Radio NZ worries that means people can’t make emergency calls.

Yet, with mobile phone penetration now at well over 100 percent, few households would be cut-off in an emergency. Certainly not the kind of tech-savvy households in a hurry to buy fibre.

Except there are places like the recently built old people’s accommodation in Wellington that is fibre only. The residents have to sign for fibre accounts and, at first, couldn’t make regular phone calls.

Old school telephone on fibre

Spark came to the UFB project’s rescue selling what is effectively a virtual plain old-fashioned telephone service over a fibre connection product. Any ISP could offer a similar product, the technology was baked-in to the UFB design from day one, but the others have chosen not to invest in that area.

That still leaves the problem of fibre failing in a power cut, but then so does everything else. We’re dependent on electricty. After the Christchurch earthquakes the mobile carriers used portable generators to power cell sites. People still had to find ways to charge their mobile phones.

There are still whiffs of amateur hour about the UFB project. You might well ask why it took the government until the roll-out’s halfway point to address the access issues.

And there are still questions over the price ISPs have to pay Chorus to use the old copper network. Spark recently rekindled the copper tax debate pointing out that half the money a customer pays for broadband goes directly to Chorus.

While we’re on the subject of the copper tax some sources have reported the government has made heavy-handed threats of retailiation if that term ever surfaces again in public debate. Clearly it touched a nerve. And that’s something that wouldn’t have happened if the UFB network was genuinely going from strength-to-strength.

There’s is a lot that’s right about the UFB network. It’s a great idea. For the most part it’s been well executed. But let’s not delude ourselves. It’s not perfect, nor is it going from strength-to-strength. Not yet.

Filed under: Telecommunications Tagged: broadband, Chorus, fibre, Spark, UFB

comments powered by Disqus

Trending now »

Hot discussions in our forums right now:

Sony XZ Owners discussion
Created by networkn, last reply by Geektastic on 23-Oct-2016 11:24 (99 replies)
Pages... 5 6 7

Gigabit cable now available
Created by sub, last reply by Pumpedd on 23-Oct-2016 10:48 (59 replies)
Pages... 2 3 4

Who is this women? She is possibly the most famous women on the internet and nobody knows who she is.
Created by jimbob79, last reply by cynnicallemon on 20-Oct-2016 13:28 (14 replies)

Labour weekend plans?
Created by DarthKermit, last reply by joker97 on 22-Oct-2016 09:51 (27 replies)
Pages... 2

Is windows 10 anniversary update causing you problems
Created by robjg63, last reply by mdav056 on 20-Oct-2016 14:01 (27 replies)
Pages... 2

Kiwibank Platinum by fees not by service?
Created by joker97, last reply by openmedia on 22-Oct-2016 11:23 (22 replies)
Pages... 2

Are the Fritzbox Actually Any Good?
Created by Kopkiwi, last reply by sidefx on 23-Oct-2016 10:20 (10 replies)

'Unlimited National Traffic'
Created by MikeAqua, last reply by Nil Einne on 21-Oct-2016 20:54 (20 replies)
Pages... 2