Main centres left behind as broadband heads north

By Andre Hueber -

Whangarei will soon boast New Zealand's fastest broadband.

Businesses in the city have been promised high speed fibre-optic broadband internet through a joint venture between Northpower and TelstraClear, leaving Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch behind.

And, with Telecom promising to match the newcomers, there will be the benefits of competition to further improve overall broadband delivery.

Wellington's HSC cable (a hybrid of fibre optic and coaxial) is fast, but not a patch on the optic-only system.

"They're better than the big city boys now," said TelstraClear communications manager Chris Mirams.

"Speeds depend on the type of services we're delivering, but being fibre it's the next generation and significantly faster."

The move has been welcomed by the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand (TUANZ), which said the increased competition would improve productivity and efficiency for businesses in the city.

Whangarei-based electricity lines company Northpower and TelstraClear this week signed an agreement that will allow TelstraClear to deliver voice and high speed broadband services over Northpower's fibre-optic core network running through Whangarei's CBD.

The deal will offer high-speed broadband to up to 900 businesses, schools and hospitals initially and will have maximum speeds of 1GB up and down.

The service will use only fibre cables, offering considerably faster speeds than Telecom's existing network, which still contains elements of copper lines. TelstraClear has its own fibre cable running from Auckland.

The service will eventually be offered to residential customers and more remote areas via microwave, depending on demand.

TUANZ chief executive Ernie Newman said the development was positive for Whangarei and showed the marvels of competition. "It's a wonderful working example of the world-class telecommunications policy put in place by the Government in the past three to four years. May they both battle it out and let the customer win.

"It's a great improvement for businesses in Whangarei in terms of productivity and efficiency.

"The more isolated a town is, the more benefit it will get with broadband. It's a great leveller of distance."

TelstraClear chief executive Allan Freeth said the advice to business was simple: "We'll be here soon. Don't sign any long-term contracts until you have spoken to us."

He said prices wouldn't necessarily be cheaper but customers would get faster speeds and "more bang for their buck".

"Whangarei will leap-frog over cities like Auckland who, in general, are still trying to make the most of copper lines."

However, after Telecom was asked for a response to the newcomer moving in, the company's wholesale arm announced exclusively that it would also be offering businesses faster speeds of 1GB by Christmas.

Telecom media-relations executive Ian Bonnar said while the Telecom network still contained elements of copper wire at the moment, that would be replaced by fibre-optic cables to accommodate the faster data speeds.

Mr Bonnar said: "We will have new technology in place by Christmas that will allow Telecom, and any of the other ISPs who offer services using the Telecom network, to offer high-speed data services in the Whangarei CBD."

The head of corporate services at TelstraClear, Mathew Bolland, questioned the timing of Telecom's announcement.

He wondered why the company hadn't made it earlier. "It's the kind of comment you make when you see someone's leapt ahead of you in technology."

Mr Bonnar said Telecom wholesale already offered service providers high-speed data services for their business customers in Whangarei, Kerikeri and Kaikohe, but with maximum speeds of 2Mbps up and down.

Prices and plans vary according to speeds and data limits, but customers can contact Telecom and Telstra Clear's websites to customise a plan.

* Telecom already offers symmetric technology to businesses and TelstraClear will follow suit by Christmas. That means download and upload speeds will be the same. Telecom's residential customers currently receive asymmetric broadband, which means upload speeds are considerably slower than download speeds.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE / NZ HERALD STAFF

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