Whats next in “Fibre-Rei”?

Last Wednesday night, Graham and Darren from Northpower shared the Northpower Fibre story at a TUANZ After 5 in Auckland.

It was a great night and I’m trying to convince them to come and share the story in Wellington soon (keep an eye on the after 5’s section of our website).

I’ve been following Northpower with interest for a number of years and it was great to see them pass such a major milestone – just in case you missed it 

Northpower have completed their UFB build!!!

Thats right, ahead of schedule and apparently under budget!!

Compared with what we usually hear about the UFB as a troubled project, this is quite simply amazing news and a fascinating story.

Personally I’m not surprised because Northpower is pretty special, not just because in many ways they are still a pretty traditional, community-owned electricity lines company but also because they have one of the most cohesive corporate cultures I have ever encountered.

When I first visited them with Ernie Newman 5 or 6 years ago, I was struck by how it didn’t matter whether you were talking to the Chairman of the board or one of their linesman you heard a completely consistent view of why they were building a local fibre network and who they were doing it for – the people of Whangarei in particular and the well being of Northland in general.

This attitude has already attracted investment and focus to Northland (examples being the early partnership with TelstrClear  and the extension of competitive fibre backhaul via FX Networks and the Tai Tokerau Network) and which may be strengthened soon by a Northland based landing for a competitive international fibre with the proposed Hawaiiki trans-pacific cable (watch that space for pending developments).

What they’ve achieved is remarkable on many fronts, when fibre became a political issue in the 2008 election, I don’t think too many of us would’ve picked the ‘Rei’ as NZ’s first fibre city! But when you hear Graham tell the story its easy to understand how they got there.

It was a ‘communications project’ planned by ‘power engineers’ using ‘IT project management tools!’ and a never say die attitude.

They had a genuine process of plan, build, refine, learn and modify, they developed unique hardware for their overhead build and even stuck the fibre jointers up the poles in cherry picker buckets all to speed up the deployment time and lower the cost per premises passed.

And they refined this process at least 4 or 5 times, I think their tight structure and locally focussed team were also huge assets in their success to date.

They’ve done a remarkably good job of taking key stakeholders and the community with them, from working with the council on consenting, developing and supporting local IT companies as retail partners and working with local businesses, schools and communities to ensure that Whangarei was truly fibre ready.

The proof is in the pudding so what are the results?, well they’re pretty impressive too, they currently have the highest UFB uptake rate of any LFC, approaching 70% in the earliest streets they connected, but the figure that blew me away was that since announcing the completion of the build and its subsequent publicity – the enquiry rate has increased by 400% !!!

Rohan McMahon from CFH summed this up by saying “you’ve turned the waiters into wanters!” and in the process I think they’ve shown the way forward for the UFB overall, people will watch the build with interest but it is only when they can assume UFB is available that they’ll seriously consider making a commitment.

But it gets even better, Northpower aren’t resting on their laurels just yet! ultimately they’d like to be able to offer fibre to all their electricity subscribers! (including Rural dwellers!) there’s a few wee challenges but if anyone is up for it – its these guys.

So if you want an awesome lifestyle plus NZ’s best broadband Whangarei is the place to be!