Vodafone doubles capacity in Auckland, brings Rural Broadband Initiative to Great Barrier

Key on Great Barrier this afternoon

Wireless broadband is now live on Great Barrier Island, courtesy of the government's six-year, $300 million Rural Broadband Initiative (won by a joint tender from Vodafone and Chorus. The RBI is partly funded by a levy on the telecommunications industry, and partly through a direct government grant of $50 million)

Under the agreement, 154 new cellphone towers will be built by Vodafone, 387 cellphone towers will be upgraded and Chorus’ existing fibre network will be extended by about 3100 kilometres.

A wireless broadband tower at Claris (the 31st erected under the public-private RBI) will deliver fast internet and mobile phone coverage to 210 Great Barrier households and businesses between Awana Bay and Jack Ryan Bay, will generate its own power via solar panels and a wind turbine.  Energy will be captured in a large battery system, with two diesel generators providing reliable backup if required.

ABOVE: The $1 million tower (right) is powered by solar panels, a wind turbine, plus diesel generators as backup. The stripped pole holds a microwave backhaul link for landline networks.

As with other celltowers erected under the Rural Broadband Initiative, the government covered site acquisition and construction cost, while Vodafone - which will operate its Great Barrier Island service on a commercial basis - stumped for the electronics. All told, the Great Barrier project cost around $1 million.

Why should the taxpayer subsidise broadband service for a Hauraki Gulf island, best known as a lifestyle destination more than a rural area?

Great Barrier  receives about 30,000 tourists a year and has 1000 residents.

"Better cellphone coverage can potentially help to attract more people [tourists and residents] here," Prime Minster John Key said at the opening ceremony today

"People with a job like mine can't go somewhere and not be contactable," said Mr Key, who was flanked by ICT Minister Any Adams and Auckland Central MP and recent addition to cabinet Nikki Kaye.

The Great Barrier tower also means better coverage for any boaties who get into trouble in the area, the Prime Minster adds.

Vodafone doubles capacity in Auckland
Back on the mainland, Vodafone says it has doubled the capacity of its 3G mobile network in Auckland.

350 of its 400 cellsites in the city now support "Dual Carrier" technology that doubles mobile data download speed. Vodafone has also upgraded the towers to run on both 900MHz and 2100MHz bands. "Together, these frequencies allow mobile signal to travel further and deeper into built-up areas – and doubles the capacity of the network," the company said in a statement.

The catch: at the moment there are few Dual Carrier (DC) devices on the moment - although Vodafone has nine in its line up: the iPhone 5, iPad Mini, iPad Retina Display, Nokia 820, HTC 8X, Samsung GS3 DC Samsung Galaxy Note II, Vodafone R208 (Wifi Hotspot) and Vodafone Stick K4605.

Vodafone has also upgraded parts of the Wellington CBD. Chief network officer Tony Baird says 50% of the company's 3G network - covering 70% of the population - will have been given the 3G turbo-boost by April.

2degrees and Telecom are embarking on their own Dual Carrier upgrades. 

2degrees says it will have 50% coverage by the end of the year, with unspecified areas of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch already upgraded.

Telecom says it has already upgraded half of its network, over a spread of main centres (see coverage map here).

Keenest industry attention remains on the government's plan to auction 4G-friendly 700MHz spectrum freed up by the digital TV switchover. Today, a spokesman for IT & Communications Minister Amy Adams told NBR the auction would be staged "well before the end of the year."

Phone companies had been hoping the auction would take place as early as December last year. But the date slipped into early this year, and now later still.

The government is grappling with a number of complications, including a Treaty claim on spectrum, supported by the Maori Party, and a push by 2degrees to be allocated spectrum "at a fair price" to help compensate for Telecom and Vodafone owning more airwaves and keep the market competitive.

ckeall@nbr.co.nz / gbond@nbr.co.nz

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"People with a job like mine can't go somewhere and not be contactable," Mr Key says.

The Great Barrier tower also means better coverage for any boaties who get into trouble in the area, the Prime Minster adds.

Thats unless you are on Telecom!!

That contract should allow/require tower sharing.

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Vodafone (and Chorus) are wholesalers in the context of the Rural Broadband Initiative. Others can "co-locate" or put their own gear on celltowers erected or upgraded under the project (although 2degrees has complained about the terms).

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the 3G coverage on Waiheke Island is shocking, almost non existent, why is this not upgraded too. This is a tourist Destination! The free Telecom WiFi made the situation bearable over this holiday period but it is still bad for Vodafone.

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I've found Telecom and Vodafone reception poor to useless on large parts of Waiheke - including a trip there over the Xmas holidays.

There won't be any relief via the Rural Broadband Initiative though.

Waiheke (resident population 10,000, give or take) falls under the urban/landline fibre-based Ultrafast Broadband (UFB) initiative.

So better home and business broadband connections should be ahead, but not cellular reception (or at least at the expense of the taxpayer). More fibre backhaul between celltowers might help a little.

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I suspect it's because the good people of Waiheke FEAR the EVILS of cellphones and towers and refuse planning permission to put the towers up.

I have stories but I haven't started drinking yet this evening and cannot relay them without a glass in my hand.

There are plenty of visitors to Waiheke and residents on the island who want coverage, but equally there is a very vocal group of tin-foil hat wearers who refuse to allow the towers to be built.

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"Back on the mainland, Vodafone says it has doubled the capacity of its 3G mobile network in Auckland"

Hah! And yet here in Kohimarama, we are lucky to have three reception bars - and it takes a strong wind for that to happen! Mostly one bar, sometimes two. Three? Very occasionally.

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Vodafone says the remaining 50 Auckland cellsites will be upgraded over "the next few weeks."

Another issue: Dual Carrier is a tasty way to boost today's 3G networks while we wait for the faster 4G ... but only those with the latest iPhone will benefit at this point. Other handsets that support Dual Carrier will hopefully come on the market shortly. The latest iPad, and Vodafone's top-of-the-line data stick, also support Dual Carrier.

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Well, Footplate, you'll only notice a difference if your phone is DC capable, or if it supports 3G 900. Maybe say what kind of phone you have first before whining.

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"3GS", with a snivel.

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Funding for the Rural Broadband Initiative was meant to bring broadband to rural New Zealand, not provide convenience for wealthy domestic tourists. Great Barrier Island is covered in native bush and homes of the wealthy, not primary industries. Spending even 1% of RBI funding on 3G here was bloody irresponsible while the government's plan is leaving entire districts of pastoral farmers on satellite.

Come the next election when pastoral farmers are struggling with the broadband they need to run their business I can't see them voting National again.

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Has anonymous ever been to Great Barrier? It's not just covered in native bush and homes of the wealthy, as he presumes. There are people who live here all year round who are most definitely not wealthy. In fact, if you check the statistics they are some of the poorest in monetary status than anywhere in NZ. Many rely on the internet for shopping because the cost of travelling on and off the island is so expensive. Yes, pastoral farmers and everyone else deserve good cellphone coverage but there's no need to bash on those who get it first. Your turn will come - be patient.

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Perhaps Mr Key should attempt to spend some time in South Head, you know, part of his electorate, and try accessing broadband,and cellphone coverage, especially during an emergency or power outage. In a large number of places there is no coverage by Telecom, Vodafone or 2degres. Go figure.

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I just switched from Telecom XT to Vodafone and got a S3 Dual carrier! What a difference in speed, Vodafone runs rings around the Telecom XT network where I mainly use my phone, Coverage is also better here at home on the North Shore! I just did a speedtest and got 28mbps down and 3.9 up on Telecom I would be lucky to get 3mbps down and .9 up. I see reading the media release they have another 150 sites to go live in Auckland over the coming weeks this is going to be amazing! Just my 2 cents worth! Vodafone has proven Telecom XT network is a dog!

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I have to agree with Telecom Fanboi (was)..... opinion.

I use to be a loyal & proud Telecom XT customer, but I moved, due to their really slow mobile broadband. Vodafone is simply in a different league & markedly faster.

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The Maoris again put the brakes on an incremental national step-forward with the reported spectrum claim above. #liabilities

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The Maoris knew all about radio spectrum in 1840 and were actively communicating with it and so have every reason to claim it as a traditional right and taonga.

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