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Adams hoses down Vodafone UFB plan

UPDATE / March 7: Telecommunications industry types can stop their furious online debates.

Amy Adams has dismissed Vodafone's proposal to scrap the UFB in Wellington and Christchurch.

"Vodafone is obviously pursuing its own commercial interests," the minister tells NBR.

The government will not be stopping the UFB build in any of the candidate areas."

Yesterday, it was reported Vodafone CEO Russell Stanners had written to Crown Fibre Holdings, suggesting the public-private Ultrafast Broadband (UFB) rollout be scrapped in Wellington and Christchurch - the two cities were Vodafone inherited a hybrid coaxial fibre (HFC) network when it bought TelstraClear. The move would save money, and prevent unnecessary overbuild.

TelstraClear was a fierce critic of the UFB in the build up to the project.

Then CEO Allan Freeth called the rollout "network socialism", and said the UFB, backed by $1.35 billion taxpayer cash ($929 million for Chorus), would dampen private sector enthusiasm to invest.

At the time, then ICT Minister Steven Joyce said that expanding existing fibre (or older HFC, in the TelstraClear case) would be a "Hobson's Choice" that always favoured incumbents. Mr Joyce added that carriers had had years to expand fibre, but had done little - particularly in terms of fibre-to-the-premise. Left to their own devices, telcos would - quite sensibly from their commercial perspective - take a long time to expand fibre, Mr Joyce argued. He saw the UFB as a strategic government intervention that would see fibre rolled out sooner, for the greater good of business and the economy.

InternetNZ strongly opposed to Vodafone's plan to scrap the UFB in Wellington, Christchurch

March 6: InternetNZ says it's strongly opposed to Vodafone’s suggestion, made public this morning, to scrap construction of the Ultrafast Broadband (UFB) network in Wellington and Christchurch.

The non-profit, which administers the .nz domain, was responding to the idea that the old hybrid fibre-coaxial cable (HFC) network be used in lieu of new UFB fibre in Wellington and Christchurch, InternetNZ’s CEO, Jordan Carter, says that it’s a retrograde move that makes little sense for anyone other than Vodafone.

Vodafone inherited the HFC network when it bought TelstraClear.

“UFB needs to be rolled out to as much of New Zealand as possible. This suggestion by Vodafone begs the question, why would Kiwis choose to make use of a second-class network when we are already on our way to having a first–class network?," Mr Carter says.

“From the beginning, we’ve been a huge supporter of the UFB. InternetNZ welcomed Prime Minster John Key’s commitment to the plan in April 2008, and even commissioned research on the cost of a fibre build that was released later that year. Our long-term commitment to a fibre future is well established.

InternetNZ expects the Government to stand strong on its position, which has been that the UFB rollout will continue around the country.

“Minister Adams has been spot on with her comments that regardless of Chorus’ financials the UFB build must go on. We back her and the Government to make good on their election pledge of a world-class network for New Zealand,” Mr Carter says.

“It makes good economic sense for Vodafone to seek to make best use of the HFC network it bought when it took over TelstraClear, but replacing the UFB isn’t the way to go.

“While we support Vodafone and others doing some lateral thinking about how to speed up and improve the UFB rollout, this particular suggestion just doesn’t pass muster. The HFC network can deliver decent speeds, but it’s not future proof – the UFB is, and New Zealand needs to stick with it,” Mr Carter says.

Comments and questions

Calling HFC second-class is either ignorance or is designed to inflame. HFC has advantages over fibre. For example, the copper phone circuit continues to operate during power failure - something disaster-prone NZ should consider. HFC cables are also far easier and less costly to repair or replace than fibre. It could be said that fibre is second-class.

In reality, of course, there are advantages to both, just as there are to wireless delivery technologies. Vodafone's idea is a good one, as long as the option to choose your ISP was available and pricing was competitive.

UFB is, and always was, a white elephant. The free market would have delivered better and more cost-effective solutions for those were prepared to pay for them. Instead we have a taxpayer-subsidised effective monopoly network that will, largely, deliver games and dumbed-down video entertainment to the herd of similarly taxpayer-subsidised time-wasters.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I have read, 5G wifi could make wired broadband redundant.
And wireless technology, speeds and bandwidth are only going to get even better into the future.

Wireless is OK for client connections where an occasional glitch or outage is acceptable, but it's no substitute for a cable connection if you need consistent performance. They both have their uses.

Wayne, you have it exactly round the wrong way.
Next generation Wi-Fi (802.11ac) provides ultra fast wireless connectivity between the Wi-Fi access point and the end user's device (phone, tablet, laptop etc). That Wi-Fi access point itself needs to connect to the wired network and then the Internet (backhaul). The backhaul connection needs to be as fast or faster than the ultra fast wireless connection. Otherwise it is just being throttled. So UFB is a fundamental component of any next generation Wi-Fi (802.11ac network).
In summary, therefore 5G Wi-Fi (using your expression) will in fact require more fibre/UFB connections that earlier generations.

Yes but in much the same way as air cargo is faster than moving cargo by ship.

We've been promised very fast wireless (phone) data for years now, but it never seems to resemble the marketing hype.

You can get averages of 40-50 Mbps down and 30 Mbps up on 4G networks today (using an iPhone 5s at least all over AKL anyway). I'd say that "very fast wireless (phone)" is here. It's just expensive.

Plus, the newly-released DOCSIS3.1 standards show that cable can be upgraded far beyond the specifications originally promulgated for the UFB. The Australian NBN architects are already examining whether it would make sense to abandon plans to scrap Optus and Telstra cables and incorporate them into the revised network because of these newly-increased possibilities (along with the extra life that is being eked out of copper with Vectoring). Infrastructure competition is alive and well in every other OECD country apart from NZ, it seems

If Vodafone's press release wasn't so obviously self serving I would not be laughing so much. I am a HFC customer for my house and we have clients using it for business. It is reliable but cannot be compared to Enable fibre in performance and scalability. The issue I have is that we need buy into Mr Stanner's vision of HFC's future capabilities. Over the years we have been promised lots of different technological speed advances in HFC that have not arrived. Fibre technology is here, is a known quantity and Vodafone should just get on and start make it available to their customers, particularly in Christchurch where Enable have it running past a credible amount of residential and commercial premises.

Anybody who thinks wireless will ever be a replacement for fixed line infrastructure is smoking too much good stuff.

Wireless will always be a complementary solution until the day comes where somebody rewrites some fundamental laws of physics.

There's no such thing as 'future proof'. Thats what the Australian government thought when in put all its eggs into the Telstra cable infrastructure in the late 1990s. When ADSL on the 'old' copper network leapfrogged ahead of cable , the Aussies were 18 months behind NZ in making the requisite copper investments. Only governments get fooled by the 'future proof' investment line. And they waste vast sums in doing so. Minitel in France, Concorde in France and the UK, Think Big in NZ in the 1970s and early 1980s, including the massive gold-plated over investment in NZ hydro electricity generation that made sense only if we gave the electricity away to an aluminium smelter ........

@very sensible. You are not quite correct. HFC does not support copper voices services and relies on premise power just like fibre. Saturn when they built the HFC network however put in conventional paired copper as well as the COAX cable for the voice.

The "H" in HFC is hybrid, whcih means it is a mix of fibre and COAX. Fibre to the headend, coax to the home. If Vodafone offered identical services to the LFCs at the same regulated prices it may allow the deployment of fibre to be delayed in Wellington while the market learns how to make widespred use of 100Mb/s broadband services, and help the current funding challange without the "copper tax" for the 25% of the popuaiton that are not part of the fibre project anyway.

@Wayne the available radio spectrum means the transmitter has to close to the end user gto et equivalent performance for all. Fibre is still needed very near the home, if not to the home, to achieve that regardless.

Correct - I'm referring to the advantage of the existing Saturn/TelstraClear/Vodafone HFC, not HFC in general, as that's what the discussion is about. I've been on HFC from the start and have had very few problems. For me, fibre has more disadvantages than advantages, especially when considering the copper pairs and the farting about that a new install will involve at my home. And the inevitable fibre breakages that will occur from Council and other works, and endless hours in splicing that will be involved.

Looks like vfone bought a financial dog from Telstraclear and once UFB is available in all cable areas especially with a faster upload might be time for vfone to retire the HFC network.

Hard to see how you get to that conclusion. The UFB plan was known well before the sale was announced and with plenty of time for due diligence. Vodafone would also have had experience with HFC, not least from its Cable & Wireless acquisition in the UK. I'm no fan of Voda, but I do insist on critical thinking.

Here we go again. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

In reference to minister Joyce's comments about incumbents having an interest in delaying fibre rollout. Didn't his government award the fibre build contract to the biggest incumbent in copper broadband (Chorus) with no need to accelerate fibre build completion till the end of the ten year contract? Clearly there is a gap between what the government says it will fund, what chorus says it can afford and the cost of UFB. UFB will only work if consumers have an attractive offer in front of them. In that context Vodafone's offer should be on the table for discussion until someone comes up with a better solution.

To mix metaphors and hash things up (which seems very appropriate)... the Government built a pig and is trying to whitewash it with lipstick. Of course they won't like the idea because it's a very sensible one.

Ok....let's build a second airport in Wellington

Off course that is silly.


I have UFB via Chorus and Telecom, and it is infinitely better than anything I had before (VDSL and ADSL2). It is fast and reliable. Sure it costs a bit more, but then you only get what you pay for. To many people in NZ want cheapness rather that quality.