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Vodafone launches UFB plans, Sky TV over UFB fibre

UPDATE: Vodafone is launching consumer UFB plans in parts of Whangarei, Auckland, Palmerston North, Wellington and Dunedin (all bar Whangarei are covered by Chorus). Christchurch and other areas will follow over the next few months.

The carrier has matched the $75 price-point set by other ISPs for their cheapest plans. Unlike Telecom, a voice-over-fibre service is included (meaning there's no need to hold onto a copper line). Vodafone also offering a naked fibre service - that is, without a voice line (see all the plans here).

Vodafone's key point of difference is that it's offering customers the Vodafone TV Digital Recorder, decoder that can play either Freeview or Sky TV content UFB fibre. The Recorder will be available from November 1, initially for Auckland.

The decoder is a "next generation T-Box" Vodafone consumer director Matt Williams says - a reference to the set-top box used by "tens of thousands" of customers on the HFC network in parts of Wellington and Christchurch that Vodafone inherited with its purchase of TelstraClear last year.

Video is seen by some pundits as a "killer app" for persusading people to make the move to fibre. But a clone of Sky TV's line-up (plus a modest number of pay-per-view movies), may not be compelling enough to make people upgrade.

The Vodafone TV Digital Recorder is software upgradable, and quite versatile. Asked if Vodafone could approach Netflix or a similar independent TV and movie download service, Mr Williams said it was technically possible, but  "We connect New Zealand homes. They [Sky TV] provide the content. Our intention is not to go to Netflix." 

He hinted niche content could be added, and that other services were possible in future - which in NBR's view will help differentiate Vodafone's service. For now, Sky TV is taking the lead on content. The pay TV broadcaster makes it clear who's wearing the pants in this morning's press release, with Sky TV CEO John Fellet's saying, "It’s great to see Vodafone TV using the digital rights we’ve purchased."

TV content will be unmetered (that is, won't count toward your data cap. Multicast technology used by Chorus will mean there is no interference with regular broadband use, Vodafone says. There is one piece of fibre, but electronically it's configured as two virtual pieces. Someone on a 30Mbit/s or 100Mbit/s plan could effectively get more bandwidth if it's required by the TV decoder.

ABOVE: Vodafone's UFB plans (click to zoom). Sky TV Basic through the Vodafone TV Digital Recorder costs $45/month; adding Sky Movies costs $22.05; adding Sky Sport $26.66. Pay-per-view movies cost $6.95 in standard definition; $7.95 in high definition.

The set-top box, which has a 300GB hard drive and the usual recording and live pause options, will cost $14 a month on Vodafone's cheaper plans, and will be free with higher-end plans.

Customers can get Freeview channels free, or pay extra for various Sky TV channels (tied to Sky's rate card but with discounts based on the overall UFB plan you buy from Vodafone).

Non-exclusive
Vodafone doesn't have an exclusive license to provide Sky TV content over broadband. Telecom and others also have deals with Sky TV to resell its boxes or create a clone of Sky TV's decoder. Vodafone pitches the fact it's the only ISP with a set-top box ready to go.

Vodafone will shortly launch a VDSL fast copper service, which will also likely include the TV service offer, Mr Williams says. The lack of a multicast option will make it more of a technical challenge, Vodafone says.

Vodafone stresses there are no capacity restraints with fibre. That Sky TV channels offered over satellite in HD will be HD on Vodafone's set-top box. But some standard definition channels will be less compressed than they are on Sky TV.

READ ALSO: Vodafone launches business UFB plans

ckeall@nbr.co.nz


OCT 4: Vodafone is tipped to launch UFB fibre-to-the-home plans this morning.

On Wednesday the carrier launched business UFB plans. The company told NBR a residential launch was "imminent." 

This morning Vodafone consumer director Matt Williams is hosting an event at a private home in Auckland's posh Herne Bay.

Vodafone has been trialng UFB in the immediate area for nearly a year; NBR first had a spin on a Grey Lynn resident's (Chorus-installed) UFB connection back in December last year.

A key point of interest will be whether a voice-over-fibre service will be included with Vodafone's plans (a voice service was conspicuously absent from Telecom's launch, leadiing to complications around the need to retain the old copper line).

Vodafone NZ CEO Russell Stanners has previous said the UFB installation experience was "not ready for primetime." On the technical side it may now be up to snuff. 

But in an interview with NBR last month, Chorus boss Mark Ratcliffe told NBR people who live down a right-of-way or in a mulit-tenant dwelling can face a wait of up to three month as his company seek to get the permission of every owner involved (Chorus - which is rolling out around 70% of the UFB, is pushing ICT and Environment Minister Amy Adams to make the UFB a "designated service," which would allow it automatic access to ROWs and apartments).

Vodafone's entry seen jump-starting market
So far, only around 10,000 of 300,000 within reach of fibre have taken a UFB plan.

Mr Ratcliffe - whose company  is wholesaling UFB access to retail ISPs - told NBR that UFB adoption would accelerate once Vodafone entered the market.

"I suspect we’ll see the competitive dynamic changing a bit when Vodafone’s in the market. When you’ve got the big two retailers going head-to-head, competition drives greater demand," he said.

"When you’ve got two big guys going hard at it, that will see faster uptake."

Telecom holds around 50% ISP market share, and Vodafone (now including Telstraclear) has 29%, according to Commerce Commission figures. CallPlus (including Slingshot) has around 9%, and Orcon 5%.

Comments and questions
18

Mark Ratcliffe will find that UFB uptake will accelerate when Chorus actual start connecting people who want it. Nine weeks and counting so far for a business connection (and yes Fibre is already in the street).

Chorus have also refused to connect a colleague due to the fact that he lives down a ROW (in a new subdivision that has underground conduit installed) because they need written authorisation from all the property owners. Fair enough I hear you say, however one of the properties is an empty section. Unsurprisingly Chorus could not contact the owner at that address, and so therefore refused to undertake the installation (even though it would not have to dig up any of the driveway). How many homes in Auckland are down ROWs? No wonder uptake is low. No one can actually get connected.

In an interview last month with NBR last month (www.nbr.co.nz/chorus), Chorus CEO Mark Ratcliffe called for UFB fibre to be made a "designated service" under the Resource Management Act - meaning Chorus could lay fibre along a right-of-way or into an apartment building without getting every owners' permission. He said as things stand, the process can take up to three months (and of course it's an open-ended amount of time if one owner is uncooperative). As both Environment Minister and ICT Minister, Amy Adams is in a good position to effect change, Ratcliffe suggests. That's true, as far as it goes. But why didn't Chorus and the government resolve the issue during the 24 months of pre-UFB launch negotiations and discussions.

I should clarify, the business fibre I am waiting for is HSNS, not UFB. Our business is located in Auckland CBD, and this service has been available at our address for some time. Currently paying $200/m for ADSL. Ready to spend $1,200/m on HSNS. Imagine the increased return on investment for Chorus if someone actually connected me up, but yet another week rolls by with no action.

Lead-times in Dunedin for installations are >3 months for residential and commercial UFB tails. Sometimes 6 months. By the time a customer gets UFB delivered, they have forgotten what they ordered.

For new subdivisions, the official advice on Chorus' website says one thing for lead-ins; the techs say another. Any multi-tenancy requires an MDU, no option, double the lead-time. Chorus is a joke on the ground.

And why are councils not mandating that all new houses build in the UFB areas be made 'fibre-ready'? If the fibre strategy could not be integrated with the copper strategy before rollout, there's no hope of it being integrated with any other strategy or policy!

I suspect Vodafone's deal with SKY locks them into a deal where they can't sell or promote any other content service. So def no Netflix, Hulu, iPlayer. Or any of the great services out there.

So at a time when consumers in North America are revolting against the bundling of internet, tv and phone, this is the great new strategy of NZ telecoms...

We'll, North America isn't New Zealand is it?

50% of NZ homes have SKY, Vodafone's proposition with free MY SKY smartly targets those users but there are aother important aspects to this.

- Vodafone specifies HD included between the two options of Freeview|HD and more importantly, with SKY, a $10 monthly saving for a SKY customer.

- IPTV will likely deliver a better standard image quality. Vodafone likely have a direct feed into SKY's head end from their own TV broadcasting location in Wellington. With multicast not impacting a UFB connections bandwidth and less compression considerations having eliminated satellite transmission, keep a close eye out for improved channel image quality (will be interesting to see if SKY happily adopt IPTV broadcast as their preferred transmission method with the help of more ISPs)

- Vodafone's STB will be the only single box in market that allows a user to switch between SKY services and Freeview|HD - a great option for those with properties that may not want pay TV year round, and can eliminate an additional Freeview box.

- Vodafone appear to have their own PPV services, not sure on the agreement specifics, but will be worth looking at the difference in iffers for affordable PPV ($7?)

- Still offering free decoder rental every month, if you compare that to SKYs direct offering and include the $10 HD ticket saving, that's a $25 cost saving every month for what seriously looks to be the superior service.

The challenge here is to question how long Vodafone will hold these advantages (considering slow predicted uptake of Fibre), and what SKYs market reaction will be to the interesting pressures this partnership throws at them.

All up, seems like a good prop and once I'm UFB passed earlier next year I suspect I'll switch my SKY over and sign up.

Streaming TV1 - On Demand quite happily last night on my old copper through my Samsung TV on ADSL 2, everyone sure we need fibre for TV? Maybe if we are that home business or domitory with several internet gamers.....

You might well be streaming TV1 over ADSL but what happens when you also try to stream another channel in a different room, or your kids start playing games online at the same time? That's the difference with fibre - there is enough bandwidth for multiple streams and activities all at the same time.

How many "tuners" does the box have for simultaneous recording?
Can it be linked to two TV's or do you need two boxes?
If you need two boxes, do they have to be hard wired or can you wifi the in home portion?
Does it have access to Sky's ondemand service.
Why only 300GB - is this expandable?

Hi Harvey,

Vodafone says 3 tuners.

You do need two boxes (which costs $25/month) for two TVs/two rooms.

Still waiting on answers to your other queries.

CK

So it looks like Vodafone can easily deliver Sky TV on a 30/10 UFB product, but think there will be 'technical challenges' doing the same across VDSL.

So why have they been whinging for the past few weeks (along with the Broadband Coalition) that the 30/10 service is rubbish and not good enough to deliver the content needed to get consumers off copper? Surely this shows that 30/10 is going to be adequate for delivery of most content/services.

The way Chorus' multicast technology works is that there is one piece of fibre running into the home, but in virtual terms its treated as two fibre connections.

In a home on a 30Mbit/s plan, a lot more bandwidth than 30Mbit/s could actually be delivered to accommodate the demands of the Vodafone TV Digital Recorder, Vodafone says.

VDSL does not support this multicast technology, Vodafone said this morning.

this just looks like they are taking the existing sky stuff, and putting it on the internet.

So what is the point? the set top box even sounds basically the same as Sky's - 300GB HD, 3 tuners etc.

Why would anybody care enough about this to buy it when they likely already have sky?

Yup. Couple of extra frills around the edges - a few unique pay-per-view movies; a slightly swisher electronic programming guide, and some standard definition channels should look a little better. And although Vodafone didn't say it, I guess no rain fade would be another benefit (downside, you telly will go out if you lose your internet connection).

But overall, it's hard to argue with your comment. Look forward to Vodafone busting out in future by adding a new partner like Netflix to the mix. The tech is all in place now, so fingers crossed.

"Look forward to Vodafone busting out in future by adding a new partner like Netflix to the mix."

Not possible. The terms of Vodafone's deal with Sky will almost certainly rule this out.

Sky has locked up Vodafone. A couple of extra movies on pay per view. Come on. Kiwis are once again let down. Amazon Prime, for $8 per month gives you more than 10,000 on demand movies and countless tv shows. Netflix and Hulu plus, the same (but costs about $10 each per month).
So for less than NZ$30 per month you get more than you can possibly consume, and much of it quality programming, at the same time as the US gets it. If $30 is too much, you can een share your account with someone. You can watch these on a $140 Roku box with HDMI adaptor. If you use your Apple TV on US store (easy to change) you also get Sky News UK streaming live for free 24x7. So, there is absolutely no reason to have Sky TV NZ or this totally lacking new offering from Voda, unless you have to have Sky sport. I for one, prefer to keep the $100 difference per month and enjoy much better viewing. Here's hoping Telecom comes up with something more compelling.