An arms race between landline and mobile network providers continues to see New Zealanders being offered some of the fastest broadband in the world - and it's about to get a lot faster.
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Ultra Fast Fibre (UFF) says it will offer 2 Gigabit per second and 4 Gbit/s UFB fibre plans early next year, and that it is working with retail ISPs to trial a 10 Gbit/s plan - or 10 times faster than any fibre plan today - with a pilot running through to the end of February.
UFF, owned by power company Wel, is the largest UFB fibre provider outside of Chorus. It services a swathe of the central North Island, including Hamilton, Rotorua, Tauranga, New Plymouth and Whanganui.
A spokesman for Vocus told the Herald that ISPs in its stable, which include Orcon and Slingshot, would definitely take part in the trial. Spark and 2degrees said they were interested.
Trustpower, Lightwire, Solarix and OurCloud are also keen.
If you want to jump onboard the trial, hold your horses, however. A rep for UFF says the retail ISPs are initially offering the 10 Gbit/s plans to staff only.
As with Chorus' recently announced 2 Gbit/s and 4 G/bit/s "Hyperfibre" UFB plans, also slated for launch in the New Year, punters will need a new ONT box (which connects fibre from the street to a router in your home) and a new Wi-Fi setup around their home - for new gear compatible with the Wi-Fi 6 standard is needed to take advantage of 1 Gbit/s+ bandwidth coming into a home. Pricing will be up to retailers - but will initially be pitched at a level likely to only appeal to business.
Overall, the timeline is fuzzier than Chorus' month-by-month timeframe for delivering its new Hyperfibre service to various towns in stages over 2020 - from Queenstown in February through to Auckland in May.
Why silly-fast fibre now?
Chorus and UFF are ramping up their fibre plans as the first phase of Vodafone's 5G mobile network upgrade goes live, with Spark poised to follow from July next year.
After years of high spending to build their fibre networks, Chorus and the three smaller UFB companies aimed to sit back and enjoy the cashflow after the first phase of the build ends this month and the second in 2022. But the arrival of 5G, and its potential to replace landlines in a decent whack of the market, has wrecked the party.
Vodafone 5G is offering download speeds above 500 Mbit/s (0.5 Gbit/s) now, but the company sees 1 Gbit/s to 10 Gbit/s in the years ahead as new standards are rolled out and more spectrum becomes available.
The carrier has already flagged that it sees fixed-wireless or offering broadband into a home or business through a mobile network as a landline substitute - as a major area of growth over the next two to three years.
Meanwhile, UFF chief executive John Hanna says some 30 per cent of new customers are opting for a 1 Gbit/s plan, the fastest his company offers today.
Who needs the coming 2Gbit/s or 4Gbit/s of bandwidth? Even with every member of a household mainlining 4K Netflix, online gaming and videoconferencing at once, it's hard to max out a 1 Gbit/s line.
Hanna concedes that most households on UFF's 1 Gbit/s connection are not using all of the capacity available to them.
But he adds that delivering fibre to almost every conceivable device within the connected home is not far away as the "Internet of Things" rapidly expands.
"We are building next-generation products for the very near future, so that we stay well ahead of demand for new applications, devices, and other emerging digital transformation scenarios, many of which haven't been invented yet," he says.
More small towns get fibre
UFF has also updated on its progress delivering UFB fibre to further areas under "UFB 2", which saw the target for the public-private Ultrafast Broadband fibre rollout expanded from 80 per cent to 85 per cent of the population by 2022 (UFB1 wraps up this month).
As with UFB1, UFF is running ahead of Chorus. Hanna says the second phase of UFF's fibre build is soon to be completed. He expects uptake in these towns will grow rapidly. Stratford and Omokoroa have already reached 50 per cent uptake, with other UFB2 towns like Huntly, Kihikihi and Ngaruawahia registering the fastest number of new fibre connections across the entire UFF network last month.
This compares to the uptake among UFF's UFB1 towns, which is now over 63 per cent, with Hamilton and Tauranga ranked among the top 10 in the country for UFB uptake at 67 per cent.
When the first phase of the UFF rollout was completed in 2015, the average customer connection speed was around 50 mbit/s and the average monthly internet data usage was 12 gigabytes. Now, it's over 100 Mbit/s and 280GB respectively, Hanna says.