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The New Zealand industry has invested $15 billion over the past decade in new technologies to ensure New Zealanders benefit from world-class networks and services. That’s seen our country rise to 3rd in the world rankings for mobile services[1] and 12th for overall digital connectivity[2].

Some of these technology upgrades, such as the Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) fibre rollout and the Rural Broadband Initiative, are once-in-decades initiatives that are dramatically improving the way we can all earn, learn and live well.  At the same time, new technologies bring changes to the way some things operate, so it’s important we understand how they may work differently – and what that means for you.

[2] Huawei Global Connectivity Index, Nov 2020 https://www.huawei.com/minisite/gci/en/index.html

 

Fibre Broadband

From 2012, New Zealand began the Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) rollout, a partnership between the Government and private companies to install fibre in homes and businesses across all cities and towns in the country.  Over time, these fibre connections will replace the traditional copper lines used for telephone calls and older broadband technologies such as ADSL and VDSL.

The first phase of the UFB rollout was completed in late 2019 and laid fibre down the streets where 79% of New Zealanders live.  The second phase, covering smaller communities, is increasing fibre availability to 87% when the rollout completes by end 2022.  Well over 1 million homes and businesses are now benefitting from fibre broadband. For more information on the UFB rollout, see the Crown Infrastructure Partners website.

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Copper Withdrawal

The success of the UFB rollout means by 2022 most New Zealanders are expected to have access to fibre at home and large parts of the traditional copper phone and broadband network will no longer be needed.  In December 2020, the Commerce Commission published a new Copper Withdrawal Code which set out the process by which Chorus can switch off copper network services in a specified area while protecting the interests of consumers during this transition. Chorus is undertaking trials in limited areas during 2021 to better understand the customer experience and finetune its plans for future transitions.  For more information, see the Commerce Commission website.
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Wireless Broadband

Newer wireless technologies, mostly based on the cellular network that mobile phones use, have made it possible for super-fast broadband to be delivered to homes and businesses over radio waves, rather than via a fixed connection such as a fibre cable or copper line.  Wireless broadband services first became available via 3G mobile networks, improved significantly with the rollout of 4G networks several years ago, and are getting faster and better again with the progressive introduction of 5G.

Wireless Broadband is a big component of the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI), a multi-year public-private partnership to deliver better broadband and mobile services to rural homes and businesses outside the areas covered by UFB fibre. 

The first phase involved building approximately 150 new cell towers in rural area and phase 2 is adding more than 400 additional towers and will extend high-speed wireless broadband availability to 99.8% of the population by 2023.  Phase 2 is being implemented by the Rural Connectivity Group,  a joint venture between the three main mobile operators (2degrees, Spark and Vodafone).  For more information, see the RCG website.

Wireless broadband is also being offered by some providers in urban areas as an alternative to fibre or copper broadband.

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Home Phone Calling

111 Calls

When New Zealand’s 111 emergency service was introduced more than 60 years ago, all calls were made from traditional home phones (landlines) using the copper lines network. Today, that has reduced to a small minority: three quarters of all 111 calls are now made from mobile phones and many home phones are now connected via fibre or wireless networks.

These newer technologies need an electricity supply in the home to work.  In the event of a power outage to the home, home phones using these networks will stop working. This means that a consumer will not be able to contact the 111 emergency service on their home phone during a power cut in the home.

Although the majority of New Zealanders own or have access to a mobile phone which provides an alternative means of contacting 111 emergency services, it is important that our most vulnerable consumers can access 111 emergency services when the power fails at home..  In November 2020, the Commerce Commission published a 111 Contact Code to ensure that vulnerable consumers, who may have a particular risk (e.g. a medical condition), have reasonable access to an appropriate means to call 111 emergency services in the event of a power failure in their home. 

PSTN Upgrade

The Spark-owned PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) is a network of electronic switches that connect home phone (landline) calls over copper lines.  The current system dates back to the 1980s and is at the end of its lifecycle, so Spark is moving to more modern technologies and will progressively shut down the existing PSTN.

With many New Zealanders having upgraded their home connections to either fibre or wireless, a large number of people who still use a home phone are already bypassing the traditional PSTN: for voice over fibre calls, their home phone connects via the fibre network, and for voice over wireless, their home phone connects to the nearest cell tower (just like a mobile phone does).  According to Spark, the number of customers connected to the PSTN has fallen markedly in recent years, from over 1 million in 2017 to around 400,000 in 2020.

To make sure New Zealanders can stay connected, Spark is moving those still using the old copper phone technology onto more modern technologies and gradually shutting down the PSTN in certain areas. Also, because some of Spark’s broadband over copper services are delivered through systems associated with these old PSTN switches, it has also made the decision to withdraw all of its copper based broadband services in these areas.

Spark began the trialling the PSTN switch-off from late 2020, starting with about 1000 home and business customers in Devonport, Auckland and Miramar, Wellington.  The experience of customers in these trial areas is informing a broader national rollout over coming years, starting in 2021.

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Mobile Services

Two major upgrades to mobile services for New Zealanders are progressing across the country.

5G

Mobile network operators are now rolling out services using 5G.  5G simply stands for “fifth generation” and is the latest evolution of mobile technology – following 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G. 5G will enable speeds up to 10 times faster than 4G, meaning mobile users can do more with data, quicker. It is ideal for live activities such as remote robotics or virtual reality, will enable more devices to connect to each other (the internet of things), and provide larger network capacity to cater for the expected huge increase in mobile data usage.

We know many New Zealanders are confused or unsure about 5G and what it may mean for them. Rather than relying on what you may read on the Internet or social media, we’ve developed the 5G Facts website as a “one-stop shop” where you can get basic information and easily link to reputable expert sources.

Rural Connectivity

A major public-private partnership is underway to improve mobile coverage for rural New Zealanders.  The Rural Connectivity Group (RCG), a joint venture between 2degrees, Spark and Vodafone, is building more than 400 new cell towers across the country by 2023. Supported by the Government’s Rural Broadband Initiative and Mobile Black Spots Fund, the RCG programme is well underway and when completed will provide vastly improved telecommunications services to about 84,000 homes and businesses, provide mobile coverage along an additional 1400km of state highways, and bring connectivity to more than 150 tourism hotspots.  For more information, see the RCG website.

The new RCG cell sites have only 4G coverage, which means consumers will need to use phones capable of 4G voice calling (otherwise known as VoLTE) to make mobile calls. Some mobile phones are not VoLTE-capable and will not be able to make calls whilst connected to the new RCG sites despite seeing coverage bars (although calls using data-based apps like WhatsApp, Facetime, Skype etc. will still work).  See 4G Calling for more information, including how to find out if your phone is VoLTE-capable.

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Last Modified On Thursday, 8 April 2021