FX wins $6 million Karen contract, displacing TelstraClear

Wellington company FX Networks has won a tender to take over “Karen”, the fibre optic broadband network that links universities and Crown Research Institutes.

The contract is currently held by TelstraClear, which has operated Karen (the Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network) since it was originally launched in 2006 on the back of a $43 million grant from the Labour government.

FX will take over the 10Gbit/s network in December.

Terms of the three-year deal have not been disclosed, but tender documents indicate it is in the region of $6 million.

FX has laid 2200km of fibre around New Zealand, and has often been used by the Telecommunications Commissioner as a poster child for increasing competition and increasing broadband investment.

Karen goes to school
Karen is controlled by state-owned company Reannz (Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand Ltd). Working with FX, Reannz will assess whether to move Karen to a “dark fibre” (that is an unlit, wholesale model). And Reannz has already committed to broadening access to the network.

Since its inception, Karen has linked tertiary and research institutions.

However, Communications Minister Steven Joyce has said that schools that tat gain access fibre before June 30 this year (which the government estimates at 200), will be given access to Karen until mid 2011 under a “National Education Network” trial.

The trial is being funded as part of a broader allocation of $150 million to improve broadband for schools. The first stages of the funding were released last year. It will be shared by around 2000 schools over the next six years.

International contract up for grabs too
Karen is also due to announce a new supplier for its international bandwidth.

The incumbent is US telco Verizon Wireless which, along with Pacnet and Telecom Wholesale, is one of several companies that sell access to the Southern Cross Cable (SCC), New Zealand’s only fibre link to the outside world.

SCC’s parent company is 50% owned by Telecom, 40% by SingTel Optus and 10% by Verizon.

Tender documents indicate the international tender is worth around $16 million.