Voyager makes VDSL play, eyes Snap's turf

A price war in turbo-charged copper broadband.

Voyager has slashed pricing on its VDSL plans by 33%. The cheapest now starts at $50 ex GST ($57.50 incl GST) a month with a Telecom line or $75 ex GST ($86.35 inc GST) as naked broadband (that is, without a Telecom landline).

CEO Seeby Woodhouse calls VDSL a stepping stone to fibre. NBR agrees. VDSL turbocharges a copper line, givinig it broadband bandwith that can reach fibre-like speeds - at least if you're lucky enough to live close enough to the nearest phone exchange or cabinet. Unlike fibre, the performance of broadband fades with distance.

Mr Woodhouse says 65% of homes and businesses are within reach of VDSL. NBR notes it will usually work well within around 2km of an exchange, but best if you're under 1km. Certainly, we've seen early adopters like card-carrying uber-geek Ben Gracewoood raving about the technology's performance.

The Voyager boss says his company's business hours-focused support operation (there's no after-hours support on basic plans) means its VDSL plans will appeal to more sophisticated home users. Still's intriguiging that Mr Woodhouse - who made his fortune founding Orcon then selling it to Kordia - is once again turning an eye toward the residential market. Voyager usually prefers to compete on performance rather than price, he says, but in the case of its new VDSL offer, he says its the cheapest on the market.

The CEO emphasises VDSL is not only much faster than ADSL (the copper connection technology nearly everybody uses today) for downloads - but also much, much faster for uploads (ADSL connections tupically top out at 1Mbit/s t 10Mbit/s; VDSL can be 10 times that). That's a big deal in the age of cloud computing. 

The ISP is aggressively pushing fibre plans, but also sees a place for VDSL in areas that won't be reached by the Ultrafast Broadband (UFB) rollout for years. ADSL is fine for some customers, Mr Woodhouse says, but a small business with five or 10 staff whose broadband is starting to glug up should look at VDSL.

Voyager is focused on the business market but, notably, Mr Woodhouse says the new VDSL plans are aimed at what he calls "premium home users" too. 

Here, he constantly name-check's Snap, the Christchurch-based, nationwide operating ISP owned by CEO Mark Petrie (who recently bought out other shareholders).

Snap is one of the highest profile ISPs outside the Big Four (Telecom, Vodafone/TelstraClear, CallPlus/Slingshot and Orcon). It's had the VDSL field more or less to itself over the past year or so as one of the first ISPs to offer the technology.

Wholesaler and network operator Chorus recently cut its VDSL pricing to match the mainstream ADSL - prompting Telecom and Callplus/Slingshot to announce they will launch VDSL plans within weeks.

Mr Woodhouse says Voyager - which has offered VDSL plans for more than a year - is passing on the Chorus price cuts to its customers while others (read: Snap) aren't.

Mr Petrie told NBR Snap is reviewing its pricing but "it's already very competitive."

He acknowledges Voyager's $57 entry-level plan is cheapest, but points out its modest 10GB data cap; most customers would want to upgrade to a bigger plan (a 50GB VSL plan with Snap costs $95/month; with Voyager $100/month ex GST or $112.50 inc GST (Voyager, with its business focus, always leads with ex GST pricing).

Mr Petrie also points out Snap offers unlimited night-time downloads for those on a $110 plan (which, outside of the unmetered action in the wee small hours offers 150GB a month).

Voyager offers free installation (Snap charges $402).

Snap offers a free VDSL modem valued around $300 (Voyager likes clients to use high-end Cisco or Juniper kit, which costs the customer around $400).

The back and fourth continues. Mr Petrie says Snap has the advantage of 24/7 support; Mr Woodhouse points to independent testing by TrueNet (one of two testers on contract to the Commerce Commission) that shows Voyager the top performing ISP in the key area of latency (or lag). 

Readers will have to make their own minds up on that one - but it's nice they finally have a choice to make their minds up about in the VDSL market.


POSTSCRIPT

VDSL is barely a new technology. Telecom Wholesale (now part of Chorus) stated experimenting with it in 2008. It's been political and commercial arm-wrestling that's help up its rollout here.

I asked Snap how many VDSL customers it's gained over the past few months. CEO Mark Petrie said around 1000 residential customers, plus several hundred business customers. Chorus recently said it had just 3000 active VDSL lines.

Mr Petrie told NBR ONLINE he was disappointed Chorus trialled its new VDSL plans with a 20Mbit/s upload speed, but was commercially rolling them out with uploads limited to 10Mbit/s. He sees it as an artificial constraint.