The good news: New Zealanders are paying less for mobile phone service and home broadband than the OECD average on many plans, according to the Commerce Commission's Annual Telecommunications Monitoring Report. READ MORE:
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The bad: We still pay quite a lot more than Australians for most types of mobile and broadband. And even against the OECD, there's a glaring exception in the medium user category.
The mitigating: Pundits say the grass isn't greener across the ditch, because Aussie broadband quality has fallen behind NZ's.
"Australia's broadband is a shambles and nobody should be paying for what they laughingly describe as 'service'," technology commentator Paul Brislen says.
"Compared with New Zealand's UFB [Ultrafast broadband fibre rollout], the Australian experience is slower, more disjointed, more disruptive and more likely to fail," he adds.
"As we look at sending a large percentage of the workforce home to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic, it's a huge relief to know many of us can use a fibre service that is on par with the service offered in central city offices and at a reasonable price-point."
Telecommunications Users Association (Tuanz) head Craig Young takes a similar line on quality, saying, "By any measure, fixed-broadband in NZ for the majority is better than in Australia - particularly if you're in a fibre area."
Young expects the rise of "fixed-wireless" broadband - where Vodafone and Spark use their respective mobile networks to deliver broadband to a home or workplace as a landline-substitute to help close the price-gap.
Both carriers have recently been pushing this new technology hard, driven by the financial incentive of eliminating Chorus and its clip of roughly half the ticket on a landline.
And the Tuanz boss also noted that New Zealand is cheaper than Australia for the fastest broadband plans, or those over 100 megabits per second - fast by Aussie standards, if far slower than the 1000Mbit/s plans now popular here, and the 4000Mbit/s fibre just coming on to the market.
Ecosystem principal consultant Peter Wise says it's just maths: long term we'll always have higher mobile and broadband pricing than many countries with larger, more tightly-packed populations that are cheaper to service.
But the public-private UFB rollout means more of us are using ultrafast broadband, per capita, than most countries.
"New Zealand is still punching well above its weight in fibre penetration compared to Australia, USA, UK and most OECD countries," Wise says.
The survey also confirmed that UFB fibre is now New Zealand's most popular type of internet connection, ahead of copper lines - which Chorus will be able to start ripping out or at least switching off from January 22 under an update to the Telecommunications Act (which in turn will cause grief for those still using landlines for emergency calls).
By the end of the ComCom's survey period (September 30, 2019), there were 880,000 households and businesses on UFB fibre (of 1.6 million within reach) - a 31 per cent increase over the same time last year.
Growth in fixed-wireless slowed to 'only' 14 per cent from the 36 per cent increase seen in 2018. At its recent half-year result, Spark said it deliberately took its foot off the accelerator as it prioritised its fibre retail business in the run-up to the Rugby World Cup. However, both Spark and Vodafone are looking to their respective 5G upgrades to give fixed-wireless update a boost.
The ComCom also found people continuing to give up landlines which, in one commentator's words, are often only used these days to field calls from parents or salespeople.
More than 46 per cent of households are now mobile-only.
Both fixed and mobile data usage continues to surge, although the ComCom notes that fixed had eased off and that mobile data use was still modest next to landlines.
In mobile market share, measured by numbers of subscribers (rather than the mobile revenue metric favoured by brokers), Spark passed Vodafone for the first time with an estimated 40 per cent share to Vodafone's 37 per cent, while 2degrees grew slightly to 22 per cent.
So-called MVNOs or mobile virtual network operators who resell mobile service, such as Warehouse Mobile (which uses 2degrees' network) and Kogan (Vodafone), grew 16 per cent but off a tiny base. Overall, MVNOs still accounted for less than 1 per cent of the market.
Last year, the survey had Vodafone on 41 per cent, Spark (including Skinny) on 37 per cent, and 2degrees on 21 per cent.
In retail fixed-broadband, Spark fell 2 per cent in the latest survey to 41 per cent, but was still the largest player ahead of Vodafone, which also slipped 2 points to 24 per cent.
Vocus (owner of Orcon, Slingshot and Flip) was third placed, steady on 13 per cent, while Trustpower (50 per cent owned by Vodafone NZ's new co-owner Infratil) nudged up 1 per cent to 6 per cent.
2degrees was steady on 5 per cent.