Digital Exclusion

I’m getting ready to help facilitate at session at next weeks Nethui on ‘Digital Inclusion & UFB Uptake’, which has got me thinking.

What is it that currently excludes people from being able to participate in the digital world ?

it occurs to me that there are really only three reasons:

   1.   Choice – they actively choose not to participate for many reasons, some could be cultural or religious, some could be attitudinal and for some it could simply be the desire for a simpler life.

   2.   Access – they may live in physical locations where access simply isn’t possible or the access they can get is inadequate for full participation. This is the case for our rural, remote and under served communities.

   3.   Cost – we have a large number of households (estimates range between 23 & 27% roughly 1:5)

So it is a major issue, what can we do about it?

Feel free to engage in the comments box, is this a personal choice issue, is there a role for government ( both central & local)? Is there something completely out of the box, like pre-pay UFB

How important is inclusion? Will it be a bigger deal as the world becomes more data rich and hyper connected?

Here’s to you FX Networks…

I’ve got mixed emotions about the news that FX have done a deal with Vocus, I’ll miss FX they’ve made a huge contribution to the NZ telco scene and they’ve achieved more in a short period of time than virtually any other player I can think of.

FX is proof that dreams can come true, I remember Roger de Salis sitting at a desk in CityLink in 2002 formulating this crazy idea that he could build a network based on the railways fibre.

Roger then quite literally talked and pitched his way into being a player, with serious backing from Colin Hill he set about turning his dream into reality, he attracted  talent, clients and capital and built an awesome business.

I have so many fond memories of going to ‘Thursday Night Curry’ in Manners Mall and getting caught up in the energy of so many of our brightest and proudest geeks, people like Jonny Martin, Jamie Baddeley and Neil Fenemor.

They set out to build a proper network and they succeeded, FX reaches nearly every City in NZ and now runs at a blistering 100gb/s, they provide the physical network for KAREN, the backbone for one.govt and are trusted by many major organisations like the NZ Police & Transpower to provide their national communications backbone.

FX has also supported many of our innovative ISP’s and have even been used to show how we really can have ‘fibre to the farm’. People like James Watts at in Palmerston North and Chris Roberts at Amuri Net in Culverden (in North Canterbury) spring to mind.

People like Murray Jurgeleit and Dave Heald have taken FX to the position it is in today.

Vocus actually feel like they are the right kind of buyer and I’m really hoping they focus on delivering the services that will make the UFB come alive.

FX I’ll miss you but Vocus – the future is yours

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.




Confessions of a Tee-shirt evangelist

Since its a friday I thought I’d go off on a slightly different tangent, the recent moves in our extremely nascent, emerging residential Gigabit market got me thinking about the power of evangelism (in the marketing rather than the spiritual sense) as a marketing tool.

If you’ve ever found yourself up against rivals or competitors who can outspend you 1000:1 or even 1,000,000:1 you need to find ways to punch far above you weight (a bit like TUANZ does) and one of the best ways of doing this is to turn your customers and supporters into real life walking evangelists.

And one of the best things to give your evangelists is a tee-shirt with a snappy slogan on it.

I learnt about this technique from Guy Kawasaki who was Apple’s chief evangelist, who wrote the original Macintosh marketing plan. Guy realised that his launch budget was less than IBM’s annual styro foam coffee cup budget so they got creative.

The original TV commercial is widely regarded as the best TVC of all time, even though it was designed to only play once (during the 1984 Superbowl) and a lot of effort when into cool tee shirts for developers.

Fast forward to the early 2000’s and it was great pleasure to be working with the team at CityLink, we launched CafeNET (early public WiFi) in 2002 with street theatre in Civic Square (plus David Isenberg) and a bright yellow tee shirt saying ‘love is in the air’.

In 2004 CityLink couldn’t afford to mount a stand at the 2nd National TUANZ Broadband Conference in Hastings but we wanted to make a point about getting ‘real’ broadband not just the rationed version that Telecom were promoting.

So we got a Tee Shirt printed that said “You need at least 10mb/s to be broadminded” on the front and “CityLink – we’re broadminded” on the back. I hitched a ride to Hastings and took 3 cartons of tee shirts (I kept 3 for myself), with about 5 confederates we started circulating in our cool tee shirts and we got our first requests.

We then started our guerrilla phase and gave anybody that made a statement we liked a tee shirt, often by yelling “that deserves a tee shirt” this went on all day.

Breakfast the second day saw about 100 tee shirts in the room with more people trying to get them. I knew we’d won when on the last day, the keynote speaker from Ericsson in Sweden took the stage in one of our shirts and started by saying ‘the guys in the tee shirts are right!”

The tee shirt got a gigabit upgrade when it was taken to NZNOG (the NZ Network Operators Group) where it became a collectors item.

I then went to the TUANZ Digital Summit in 2006 (I think?) with some tee shirts that said “I want FTMH NOW!” on the front and on the back it said “Fibre To My House” It worked pretty well as well, we got the then Minister David Cunliffe into one.

So I think it worked because here I am a decade later eagerly awaiting gigabit fibre at my house.

Next week I’ll tell you what I plan on doing with it.

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.

Gigatown turns into a Giga challenge for Chorus

One more post before bedtime, now that I’m back in the temporary VDSL equipped TUANZ cave in #gigatownporirua.

I’ve had a flight back from Auckland, (cut off from my feed to the internets) to think about what Ultra Fast Fibre’s declaration of their central North Island patch as the ‘Giganet’ means for Chorus.

And what it means for us as users and how I think its the most exciting thing to happen in the UFB world since Northpower finished their build.

In military terms this has been a brilliant piece of asymmetric warfare, a judo throw that Vladimir Putin would be proud to call his own.

Chorus will now be compelled to re-evaluate the entire gigatown proposition because its just had a whole lot of the gloss removed:

1.   The winning gigatown no longer enjoys the advantage of the ‘Southern Hemispheres’ fastest internet.

2.   The 3 year stint as the gigatown is also meaningless as UFF have declared that its package will run until 2020 – which is the big bang year anyway in terms of UFB evolution

3.   The winning gigatown will have the cheapest wholesale, residential gigabit service but that may not translate into much of an advantage in what will be a much broader residential gigabit market.

4.   The winning gigatown will still enjoy the Alcatel Lucent innovation fund, but the economic development benefit is seriously diluted.

I think there will be quite a lot of angst out there in the gigatowns tomorrow (disclaimer I am part of the #gigatownporirua team) because the competition has required a lot of energy and commitment from largely volunteer teams (think Top Town meets social media). The competition and rivalry is fierce and intense, the creativity that has been unleashed is inspirational and overall it has got us all thinking about what the UFB can mean for our communities.

So what can Chorus do?

The options as I see them are:

1.   Box on like nothing’s happened

2.  Use the ‘Team Oracle USA’ like clauses in the gigatown T&C’s to pause and look for a reset

3.  Match UFF and declare everybody a ‘GIGATOWN’ (my preferred option)

I think Chorus owe it to all the towns who have played the game by their rules and who have sunk what I think must be millions of dollars worth of community time and energy into gigatown to show that they are serious about our giganation.

So whats in it for us as users, this is the stuff that rocks

1.   RSP’s now have the incentive to get really creative with UFB products, speed is no longer a limitation!

2.   The developer community can now start to build ‘gigabit grade’ products and services with a good sized local sandpit (even bigger if Chorus come to the party)

3.   UFB consumers will get world class connectivity

4.   The rest of the stack (backhaul and international) will get an increased incentive to open the pipes so we really will get genuine gigabit grade experiences

5.   There are going to be huge possibilities in education and health

6.   This will speed up the copper transition and force all the RSP’s to get serious about UFB

7.   The market for fast WiFi is going to go nuts!

8.   Aussies are going to be sooo jealous 

9.   The Government might feel so good about the giganet they’ll get behind other good ideas like Northpower’s rural fibre plans

10.  The belt of towns from New Plymouth to Tauranga is hugely important to all our current export industries and it is home to our mighty ‘Agritech’ sector (think Gallaghers etc)  – which I believe is our best shot for a global ICT niche we can own. So the Giganet is really, really important to our collective future.

I’ve been involved in the fibre dream in NZ since 1999, when I first got a CityLink connection in downtown Wellington, I helped get regional fibre extended across Nelson, Marlborough, Tasman with NMi and the Broadband Challenge.

But this development today has got me more excited as it moves us from a rationed future (just one gigatown) to one that is brim full of possibilities (a whole giganation?) because the UFB is now really going to be Ultra Fast.

I think I need a lie down now, I hope I don’t wake up tomorrow and find it was all a dream.


Time for Giga thinking

Today’s ‘Giganet’ announcement by UFF promises to revolutionize the entire UFB program for some really exciting reasons:


1.   It gives the RSP’s a reason to get serious about creating compelling gigabit products

2.  It brings gigabit to a powerhouse of the NZ economy

3.  It clearly separates UFB from legacy copper based broadband 

and it deserves a marketing award as a cheeky and brilliant use of a competitors marketing program and promotional budget.

All we need now are the clever uses, I can think of a few…


Good times!

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,,,,


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!

The S-Curve

Sales conferences have their J-shaped hockey stick graphs, but in ICT, uptake conversations turn to the S-curve.

And rightly so – the early days of any tech are generally best informed by the phrase “nobody cares” shortly followed by “nobody saw this coming” and the geeks among us smile smugly, assuming they got it right in the first place.

Currently there’s much angst about uptake on fibre because, apparently, it’s a white elephant and nobody really wants it anyway.

I am smiling smugly, content in the knowledge that we loiter at the end of the first curve and are starting to see uptake ramp towards that “overnight success” leg of the journey.

Chorus’ annual briefing to analysts seems to back me up on this.

Page 52 has a lovely chart that shows premises passed by region, with uptake rates for each region.

Auckland has the highest uptake, according to Chorus, with 8.5% of customers who can get fibre actually signing on for it. In Auckland, Chorus has completed only 20% of the build, but clearly it’s this kind of market that the main ISPs are focusing their marketing efforts on. Blenheim, by way of contrast, has 90% of its build already completed, but uptake is a woeful 5%.

Clearly, demand for services is driven by retail partners promoting and selling the product. Sadly, in the outlying areas where service is available, the larger RSPs aren’t yet offering the product, presumably because of the cost of back office connectivity with the local fibre companies (LFCs).

On top of that, ISPs only sell their products and services. They don’t not do a pre-sales “this is why you want fibre” service and sadly, as we’ve discussed before, the LFCs, Chorus and the government all point the finger elsewhere whenever I raise the matter.

Someone needs to be out there selling potential customers on the benefit. Nobody is currently doing that job and without it, uptake will continue to languish. We need to get the country as a whole moving up that S-curve before some nervous politician decides to make mileage out of ditching the whole thing altogether.

The benefits are easily expressed for anyone with half an interest in the matter. For home users you get access to the world of online content. You can have your kids doing their homework while you watch TV or save your photo gallery to the cloud. The home of the future is here today and already I’m backing up a dozen devices on a regular basis. Woe betide the family that doesn’t have UFB when that list of devices includes the fridge, the car and the burglar alarm.

For SME business, the benefits are absolutely astonishing. You can catch up with your slow, clumsy corporate competitors simply and cheaply without having a huge capex outlay. You don’t need to buy servers and hardware, all you need is a browser and a fast internet connection and you too can have an ERP system, a customer relationship management system, state of the art live accounting processes that connect your customers with your suppliers and which take all the drudgery out of doing the chores each night in the form of paperwork. You can free up your time to do the job you love enough to go into business for yourself and you don’t need a fortune to do it.

These are easy wins. Health, education, government interaction, entertainment, economic gains… these are just the things I can think of right now, off the top of my head. Once you’re connected, the world is your oyster, make no mistake.

The country needs to move up that S-curve and someone needs to drive this to make sure it happens.  Chorus and the LFCs say it’s not their job. The RSPs will spend lots of money promoting their own schemes. The government is the only one that has a vested interest in uptake and a need to see this project become the success we all know it can become.

If they can spend $14m of public money telling everyone to buy a new TV set, surely we can find something to promote the benefits of the UFB?