Rural broadband specialists, Farmside powered by Vodafone, has hit a record 10,000 rural wireless customers connecting via the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI), as rural New Zealanders continue to prioritise reliable connectivity.
This follows a spike of Kiwis connecting to internet services during COVID-19, when Farmside hit a record 15,000 customers overall, including satellite, fixed line and fibre broadband customers.
Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Minister, Kris Faafoi joined Jason Sharp, General Manager of Farmside in cutting a cake to celebrate the milestone.
Sharp says: “Our customers tell us that having a dedicated rural broadband provider who understands their needs is incredibly important, and reaching 10,000 customers is a testament to the great work put in by our predominantly Timaru-based team.
“It was a privilege to share the occasion with Hon. Kris Faafoi and a great chance to discuss New Zealand’s ongoing investment in rural connectivity through the RBI2 programme. We believe that all rural Kiwis should have access to a reliable internet connection, despite the logistical challenges New Zealand’s rugged landscape can sometimes pose, and it was great to share our progress towards this goal.”
The Rural Connectivity Group (RCG) has delivered on their commitment of having 150 RBI2 sites active by the end of September, with milestone passed in Tongaporutu last week. These new sites are helping deliver high-quality 4G wireless broadband deeper in rural Aotearoa, and enabling Farmside to offer more Kiwis access to reliable connectivity.
The joint initiative between Crown Infrastructure Partners (CIP) and New Zealand’s three mobile network operators aims to deliver 400 new mobile cell-sites to rural New Zealand by December 2022.
Sharp adds: “We thank the government for their ongoing support, but there’s still a long way to go to bridge the rural-urban connectivity divide. It’s incredibly important to us that rural families, farms, and businesses have reliable access to the internet and that we have the digital infrastructure and network that can continue to support their requirements.”
Data consumption continues to grow relentlessly as digitisation changes the way rural businesses operate and the shift towards digital entertainment continues. In September alone, Farmside reported an average annual increase of 33% data used across their rural wireless service, compared with September 2019.
Sharp says he anticipates this trend will continue.
“We’ve seen remote working increase in popularity and online discussion groups replace face to face gatherings. Combine this with a trend towards on-farm monitoring, agriculture sensors, cloud-based applications, and online entertainment, we can only expect that data consumption will continue to rise.
“With the help of Vodafone, we initiated offering unlimited data bundles from midnight to midday back in July and this has been extremely well received by our rural wireless customers. The ability for our customers to download files and entertainment to their hearts content for an extended window of time each day is small a step closer to bridging the divide.
“While we would love to offer unlimited data to our wireless customers, the reality is we have to balance network capacity and user experience for all customers accessing the network.”