The ‘gigabit’ debate

Who needs a gigabit speed connection?

That was one of the most common responses to yesterday’s discussions on the impact of Ultrafast Fibre’s ‘giganet’ announcement. And it’s a perfectly rational argument but one that is ultimately flawed and definitely one that will delay both UFB uptake and the digital transformation of the New Zealand economy.

its probably 2 decades since the idea of a 1 gigabit per second network entered my consciousness, my agency was working with the team at the recently launched Xtra and one of their esteemed geeks breathlessly told me that gigabit Ethernet switches were coming and they were going to revolutionize dial-up internet!

I went back to thinking about selling residential dial up.

Fast forward a decade to 2004 and I was sitting in the advanced networking stream at TUANZ’s 2nd National Broadband Conference in Hastings (I was there on a guerrilla marketing mission for CityLink using Tee-shirts as a weapon!). I was in the room with Simon Riley and many of the fathers of the Internet in NZ (Messr’s Houlker, March, James, Hine etc) listening to the father of ‘Canarie’ (Canada’s advanced research network) Bill St Arnaud share his wisdom.

The discussion was around Bill’s insistence that advanced networks needed to start at 1 gb/s, one of the workshop participants said ‘gigabit, meh! our network hardly ever runs at more than 10mb/s,’

Bill smiled and gave a one word answer ‘Overhead’

I was already struggling to keep up, so I played dumb (I had the lowest IQ in the room) and got him to explain what he meant, so he patiently explained that files (data sets in e-science speak) were getting bigger and bigger and were mostly moved on external media (disks, tapes, CD’s, DVD’s and even whole hard drives) but with gigabit you could save money and time moving these over the network and still keep all your other users happy.

The penny dropped for me, my agency had also seen this happen, in the late 90’s we’d been spending literally tens of thousands of dollars a month on cycle couriers, digital printing, external hard drives (remember Jaz drives and Zip disks?) this was normal and we recovered the costs in our charges.

But in 1999 we moved to an office that had CityLink running past the window, we were installed on the weekend we moved in, and an edict was issued that our first method of moving files was to be digital transfer.

in these days of the cloud, Dropbox, Xero and Saas you’re probably yawning into your decaf latte and thinking what’s the point.

Well the overhead in our digital homes is rapidly increasing, we all generate and share digital media and support increasingly busy home networks, all media is heading on-line and so are big chunks of healthcare and education.

One case in point, Ultra High Definition TV’s are coming, if you look at one in Harvey Norman’s or Dick Smith’s this weekend, take a look around the back – there’s a pretty grunty dedicated PC pumping out a Weta grade video stream. Guess what – you can’t broadcast UHD! 

So in the not to distant future if you want the best seat at an All Blacks game it’ll will be coming to you in UHD over your 1gb/s UFB connection (and they do like their rugby in the gigatron).

Just like every other step we’ve taken in home connectivity, we’ll use all the capacity and we’ll be looking for more.




Here’s how TUANZ makes a difference

I’m meeting with quite a few people at the moment and the topic of TUANZ’s raison’d’etre often comes up. There is a view that we’ve fought the fights that needed to be fought, but now the market will take care of things and we should just retire gracefully basking in the glow of a job well done.

The thing is that our voice is needed now more than ever, and our user perspective is very different from the carrier view or that of the officials and regulators. Our strength comes from our voice being listened to.

So I’m pretty pleased to learn from NBR (sadly behind the paywall) that my late night musings on things gigabit has helped to produce a result:

Chorus: gigabit soon across our entire network
NBR put the Dunedin South MP’s criticism to Chorus.

Spokesman Ian Bonnar replied,  “We already offer Gigabit business products, and we have long had residential Gigabit services on our product roadmap.

“Since last year we have been working with our retail service provider (RSP) customers to understand how and when we can best launch residential Gigabit products and we expect to do so soon, across our entire fibre network.”


So if gigabit fibre is coming to all Chorus’ UFB areas (essentially, the whole country besides UFF’s eight towns, and Whangarei and Christchurch), and its own fibre elsewhere, why should we care who wins Gigatown?

Thats awesome, I’m glad that gigabit is on the Chorus roadmap and its safe to assume market pressures will keep the wholesale pricing sharp.

The challenge now is to the RSP’s, we need you guys to figure out how to create gigabit services (I’ve been talking to some folk with a few ideas in this space). We’re not expecting to buy gigabit products in July but now we can put them on our roadmaps.

Next week I’ll be looking at ‘the state of the stack’ and what we can expect from UFB products, if you read the comments in the NBR article you’ll also see several commenters who are stuck in the blind spot between the UFB and the RBI (the 3 speed internet we were concerned about as the UFB was being negotiated).

Its hard to put an immediate value on our advocacy but if you are a member thank you your continuing support lets us function, if your not a member but think this is a useful role the membership details are on this site.

And the winning Giga Towns are…Hamilton, Tauranga, Te Awamutu, Cambridge, Tokoroa, New Plymouth, Wanganui and Hawera.

No I’m not talking about Chorus’s ongoing #gigatown competition, I’m referring to all the towns in the central north island that are lucky enough to have Ultra Fast Fibre as their LFC.

Because they will all have access to residential gigabit UFB services from July this year, these services will be available to RSP’s for $65 per month until 2020!

UFF have decided to rename their region the ‘Giganet!’

So it’s now over to the RSP’s, TUANZ congratulates UFF and will update this story tomorrow .

More to follow,,,,



Chorus has launched a promotion that will give one town in New
Zealand gigabit speeds on the Ultra Fast Broadband network.

One gigabit per second is fast. OECD rankings suggest that only
four countries in the world offer national 1Gbit/s plans – Turkey, Slovenia,
Sweden and Japan (this was in 2011 so there may be more by now) and that most
top out at about half that speed.

We’re talking about 1000Mbit/s. Today I get 15Mbit/s
download so to call it a step change is something of an understatement. My
upload speed is barely 1Mbit/s.

We tend to get complacent about the fantastic advances
technology makes each year. A doubling of capacity, a tripling of speed, these
numbers become run of the mill and users are blasé about them. But a thousand
fold increase in my upload speed would be startling to put it mildly, so good
on Chorus for trying this out.

The economic potential of offering such a service is
astonishing. Think what having such a speed would do to the way we think about
remote working or having to live in the main centres. Think about what access
to the world at those kinds of speeds would mean for start-up software
developers and to our migration patterns. Software companies should be lining
up for our cheap housing and staff with no fear of us being too removed from
the world.

Movie studios would look more to New Zealand for filming opportunities
than they do today – getting the rushes sent back to LA or New York or further
afield to the UK or Germany is a major problem and it’s not the international
leg so much as getting the footage out of Wellington and up to the Southern
Cross Cable.

But I have a question. Given this capability is clearly
available today, why are we talking about an entry level product of 30Mbit/s
download speed? Why are we talking about an upload speed barely ten times what
I get today?

Why aren’t we talking about an entry level plan of 100/100
followed swiftly by 250/250 and 500/500? Why aren’t we offering 1000/1000 at

Speeds like these would help encourage people to move to
fibre in a way that talking about 30/10 plans simply won’t.

The entry level price point is on par with copper and the
entry level speed is on par with copper so why on earth would I shift over?

No, the real lesson from Gigatown is that we should all have
that kind of capability and we should all have it sooner rather than later.
Only then will we see all those nice things in the video come to fruition.
Economic development, e-health initiatives, educational opportunities, rural
regeneration, population increase, regional development.

Suddenly, the entry level product is the barrier to uptake,
not the enabler. It’s time we revisited the UFB’s promise if we’re ever to
achieve the future depicted in the Gigatown promotion.