Faster broadband even without Government

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No need to resent Queenstown’s missing out on the Government’s $1.5 billion spend-up on fibre-optic broadband to homes – apart from the fact we help foot the bill, of course.

Faster broadband improves for Queenstowners, with Telecom installing 10 cabinets that are mini-exchanges. These extract more from Telecom’s copper-line network built for telephones.

This broadband uses a higher frequency that can parallel telephone voice transmission simultaneously. You just need to be near an exchange and have reasonable quality wiring in your home.

Telecom is spending $1.4b on 3600 street cabinets, linking to the broader network by fibre cable. Telecom already has 20,000km of fibre in the ground and is laying another 2500km. It aims to have cabinets in every town with 500 or more lines by 2012.

One cabinet has been switched on in Queenstown and three more are in the process of being hooked up – in Fernhill Road, Aspen Grove and Greenstone Place. Chorus, Telecom’s network operator, plans another six for the Wakatipu.

Businesses within 2km of an exchange or cabinet can access fast internet via ADSL technology. Homes and offices within one kilometre will be able to tap into a new copper-line technology, VDSL2, as Telecom upgrades equipment over the next few years. This can provide downloads at 50Mb/sec and uploads at 20Mb/sec.

The Government’s spend-up aims to bring fibre to the home in cities and towns, including Dunedin, Invercargill and Oamaru. It will cover 75 per cent of the population. The Government is putting up a comparatively paltry $48m for improving rural broadband – the rest of the country.

The state money is earmarked for regional fibre companies, partnerships with private investors. Even
if it finds partners in the economic downturn, the Government may need to put up another $750m.

Then, if hundreds of thousands of couch potatoes download high-definition video in an evening they’ll jam the sole undersea cable out of the country. Duplicating that will require hundreds of millions.

Nor should fibre’s rival, wireless, be written off. Fibre far outshines wireless in capacity but these mountainous islands, subject to earthquakes, aren’t ideal cable topography.

In contrast, isolation gives NZ vast radio spectrum. The next few months will see both Vodafone and Telecom expand new mobile internet networks. Struggling Woosh services rural Southland and Auckland, and specialists provide regional wireless services.

American firm Batelle has tested wireless data transmission at 10.6 gigabits per second over 800m and at 20Gb within a lab.

This millimetre-wave technology, still years away from commercial use, is the first wireless match for fibre speed.

Even if viable only over short distances, it might combine well with fibre-linked cabinets.

Those who need help now are remote farms and tourist operators. Many are stuck with snail-speed dial-up or relatively costly satellite links.

Widespread fibre to homes will probably come. It will spawn new uses just as the copper network led to faxes and the mobile networks brought texting. However, national payback from being early in fibre to the home is unclear.

Meanwhile, few businesses need vast speed. Accounting files are small, specialist firms usually host websites, and video conferencing is tiny.

Neill Birss will chase up your biz tips: neillb@maxnet.co.nz