A national project to build fiber-to-the-premise infrastructure and offer it to any Internet service provider on a wholesale basis began in New Zealand in 2011, with an initial goal of reaching 75% of Kiwi homes and businesses. According to a study done by International Data Corporation, a research firm, and sponsored by Spark, the biggest NZ reseller of FTTP service, the build out has reached about 65% of NZ premises, and the goal is now to reach 87% by 2022.
A total of 92 resellers are using the wholesale network to offer retail service. The resulting competition resulted in a drastic drop in retail prices, according to the report…
New Zealand telecommunication’s structural separation and national broadband plan have created new constructs and market dynamics. The [Ultra Fast Broadband] initiative has commoditised fibre in New Zealand. Consumer fibre plan prices have plummeted from averaging over NZ$200 per month in 2013 to around NZ$85 per month as at February 2018.
In U.S. dollars, that’s a drop from $144 (or more) per month in 2013 to $61 per month now.
The report questions whether the current level of competition can be sustained. But it also shows that there’s a big gap between the a long tail of small competitors and the handful of market leaders who, presumably, have staying power. Five companies own 91% of subscribers, and all have complementary businesses that share much of the operating costs, including marketing and subscriber management. One is Spark, which is the legacy telephone company in New Zealand, two are mobile carriers – Vodafone and 2degrees – and two are energy companies.
Even if there’s a huge cull amongst the remaining 86 providers, the level of competition will remain high. Five companies competing to offer gigabit class Internet service for $60 or so a month is a robust market, far more competitive than the monopoly/duopoly conditions in nearly all of the U.S..
New Zealand’s Canterbury Plain is hosting Google’s latest idea-that’s-so-goofy-it-might-work, appropriately named Project Loon. Thirty high altitude balloons carrying data relay equipment were released to drift over Christchurch, generally heading east towards the telecoms starved Chatham Islands. The concept Google is testing is to put enough balloons into the air to create a fleet of atmospheric satellites that can talk to each other and to the ground, and relay Internet service to hard to reach places.
With one major exception, the technology behind it is reasonably well established. In the late 1990s several projects emerged that incorporated various aspects of Project Loon. Teledesic, for example, proposed to launch more than 800 small satellites into low earth orbit and ring the globe with Internet access. SkyTower, a project I worked on for southern California drone pioneer AeroVironment, was an attempt to use a solar powered, unmanned airplane to maintain station over an area, at about the same altitude Google is testing, and serve as a low hanging satellite.
Teledesic, like the far less ambitious but actually launched Iridium and GlobalStar constellations, foundered because of the astronomical capital cost of building birds that would last for years and then getting them into orbit. The limitations of solar cell and battery technology did the same for AeroVironment. Google’s balloons solve both problems: they’re cheap to build and launch, can be easily recovered and refurbished, and the solar panels only have to power telecoms equipment and controls, not propellors.
The huge challenge for Project Loon is to figure out how to manage a free floating balloon fleet by modelling wind patterns and navigating simply by going up or down to find the right airstream. And do it in way that maintains a usable telecommunications network architecture. That is a horribly complex computing problem: just the sort of thing Google is good at.
Asian countries hit the top of the charts in the latest “State of the Internet” rankings released by content delivery network pioneer Akamai. The numbers for the last quarter of 2012 rank Korea, Japan and Hong Kong 1-2-3 in terms of average broadband download speed, with scores of 14.0, 10.8 and 9.3 Mbps respectively.
Before the hand-wringing over the U.S. not being number one starts, consider that 1. it does pretty well coming in at eighth place with average broadband download rate of 7.4 Mbps and 2. you get a hell of lot more households per fiber mile in the top three than you do in the wide open spaces of America. Singapore has the same kind of high density housing blocks, by the way, and it only ranks 26th with an average connection speed of 5.5 Mbps.
China is a world champion too. It’s the number one source of Internet attacks in the world, by a huge margin. Forty-one percent of the attacks captured by Akamai originated in China, a number that climbed about 8% since the last report. The U.S. is still in second place with 10% of Internet attacks, down from 13%. India made the top ten attack list, accounting for 2.3% of the world’s total.
China and India don’t do so well in terms of widespread Internet access speeds, though, ranking 91st and 116th with 1.8 and 1.2 Mbps average broadband download speeds respectively. Australia and New Zealand came in 41st and 42nd at 4.2 and 4.0 Mbps.
Caveats abound. Akamai is focused on the traffic that runs through its CDN and it excludes what it defines as narrowband traffic – connections less than 256 Kbps. But taken as a whole, it’s a fair comparison of the speeds most people across the world who subscribe to broadband service actually get. And almost universally, speeds continue to climb.
Fortunately, there are better ways to spend your time in New Zealand.
New Zealand is a relatively costly place to do Internet-related business. There’s only one underseas cable linking it to the outside world, the Southern Cross, which goes from Australia to California via New Zealand.
That’s two paths in and out of the country, but one owner. It’s not a competitive market. According to Market Clarity, an Australian telecoms research company, Kiwis pay 5.8 times more than Aussies for a gigabyte .
Competition of a sort might be coming in the next couple of years, though. A plan to build a second link across the Tasman Sea was announced today. Telecom NZ, Vodafone and Telstra are investing US$60 million in a new cable between Auckland and Sydney, with completion expected in 2014.
There’s some skepticism about how much competition the cable will inject into the marketplace. The Southern Cross cable is also partly owned by Telecom NZ, and the company was a little vague about who would have access to the new link and on what terms. And it only goes as far as Australia, although from there you can find competing transpacific fiber.
The most recent attempt to break the Southern Cross monopoly was a venture called Pacific Fibre which folded last year. It invested several million dollars in developing a route from Sydney to Los Angeles, also by way of Auckland. But it couldn’t raise the US$400 million necessary.
A bailout was promised but not delivered by Kim Dotcom (his legal, if not original, name). He’s a German immigrant to New Zealand who is building a larger than life image for himself as he fights U.S. government attempts to extradite him on content piracy charges.
So we’re left with today’s announcement. It’s at least a half step towards competitive international bandwidth pricing for New Zealanders.
Lake Wanaka, New Zealand. Why spend time on the Internet?
I’ve been doing my annual check on New Zealand’s mobile telecoms, from a traveler’s perspective. Coverage appears to be much the same. Some prices have gone up and some down.
Vodafone and Telecom NZ both deliver 3G service pretty much everywhere I go, in both North and South Islands. I haven’t seen any change from last year in 2degrees’ coverage, which seems to focus on urban areas and not so much in the countryside, where I’ve been spending most of my time this trip.
Prices for mobile SIM cards seem to have dropped. A traveler arriving in Auckland last week could pick up a $5 SIM card from the Telecom NZ or Vodafone kiosks at the airport. Or wait until they get into town and get a free 2degrees SIM card from a tourist information center (i-Site information and assistance centers are ubiquitous in New Zealand and are a genuine convenience for international travelers). SIM cards of various kinds are also on sale at supermarkets and other retail outlets, at or near the $5 mark.
Once you have a SIM card, though, it appears the price of a megabyte is creeping up. Last year, I saw pay-as-you go plans that included an iPad compatible micro-SIM and 3 GB of data for $50. Now, the best price I’ve seen for 3 GB is $60. The low end hasn’t changed, though. $20 will still get you a micro-SIM and 250 MB of data.
On the wired and WiFi side, prices have definitely come down. Last year, a week’s worth of unlimited hotspot use from a major provider cost $50. This year it’s only $12. Same downward price trend in Internet cafes, where $2 an hour rates are commonplace. Kiwis I talked with say the same about home Internet costs.
Of course, the best option in New Zealand is to go off the grid and enjoy the spectacular scenery and good living. But these days, you do it by choice.
Travelling through New Zealand and Australia with a smart phone or iPad is painless and relatively inexpensive for a traveller. Three national mobile networks – Telstra, Optus and Vodafone – cover Australia. Optus also markets service under the Virgin Mobile brand. In New Zealand, it’s Telecom NZ and Vodafone, with newcomer 2degrees building out its network.
My assessment of actual coverage is subjective. I used Vodafone in both countries, and Telstra in Australia. Vodafone NZ and Telstra do a very good job of covering the areas I visited: long swathes of both North and South Islands in New Zealand, and Melbourne, Adelaide and the countryside in between in Australia. Vodafone Australia’s coverage is less comprehensive. I occasionally checked on Optus’ and Telecom NZ’s availability, and could not see any significant difference between their coverage and that of Telstra and Vodafone NZ, respectively.
All four companies market their services through their own stores and resellers, and do a good job of reaching out to travellers with iPads and unlocked GSM/3G phones. I have a long standing pre-paid account with Vodafone NZ that lets me use its Australian sister network on the same terms. Just topping up once a year keeps my phone number active.
Getting a microsim for my iPad from Telstra took longer than it should have – I spent about 45 minutes in a Melbourne store going through the bureaucratic steps necessary for setting up an account, and the other three carriers appear to have similar procedures. It’s a far cry from Vodafone’s UK operation. Travellers there can pop a credit card into an airport vending machine and, for £10, get a microsim and 250 MB of data.
Costs are very reasonable. In Australia, Telstra, Vodafone and Optus all offered a microsim with 3 GB of data for A$30. Published prices are different but, judging from discussions with store staff, all three aggressively meet or beat each other’s special deals on the street. There are a few Virgin Mobile brand stores as well, and they’re aiming at more even more cost conscious buyers: a A$5 microsim comes with 300 MB of data. Avoid a couple of hotel or WiFi hotspot day use charges and it’s paid for itself. In New Zealand, microsim costs range between NZ$20 to NZ$50 for up to 3 GB of data.
New Zealand and Australia have always bee very pleasant places to do business. Ubiquitous, fast and cheap mobile broadband coverage makes it very easy, too.