NZCS meeting explores UFB potential and bottlenecks

The Ultra Fast Broadband network will have only one interconnection point per city, but infrastructure will be duplicated in larger centres

The Ultra Fast Broadband network will have only one point of interconnect per city, to enable service providers to link their equipment economically, says the Crown Fibre Holdings company's strategy director, Rohan MacMahon, but there will in practice be duplicated infrastructure "in the larger centres" for security of supply. "They will be two separate physical points but will behave as one." However, in the smaller centres there will be only one physical point of presence.While one interconnect point is convenient for the service providers and hence encourages second-level service providers to join the network, NZ Computer Society members at a presentation by MacMahon in Wellington last week seized on the risk of a single point of failure."It probably does [create such a failure point] in the smaller cities," MacMahon acknowledges, but that's a similar design to the infrastructure already present, he says.The method of UFB deployment will depend on the district plan in the particular area, he says; in Whangarei, the region where the build is furthest advanced, the fibre lines are strung on existing power poles, since the plan permits it; but the majority of deployment will be underground, mostly by directional drilling rather than trenching. "It's less disruptive and can also be cheaper and faster," he says.About six percent of UFB fibre is scheduled to be in place by June 30, with 20 percent scheduled to be complete by June 30 2013.The installation process for the premises owner is being kept as simple as possible and will be free of any up-front charge for residential customers "in standard circumstances".CFH is "working with the industry at the moment" to define those standards in more detail. Each Local Fibre Co has a different standard with regards to the connection between the curb and the premise. According to CFH contracts Chorus is only required to fund the connection up to 15 metres, whereas Northpower, Enable and UltraFast Fibre are required to fund 30 metres. Multi-dwelling units -- apartment blocks and office blocks -- gated communities and sites with complex rights-of-way are less standard. "I think we'll find every one of those represents puzzles that have to be worked through," he says. There is very little precedent in New Zealand for installing connections on an "open access" model with a strict demarcation between fibre company and service provider.The MED has issued a code of practice on such installations.The fibre network will have to handle a lot of functions now taken care of by the legacy copper network. Voice telephony is fairly straightforward, but devices such as fax machines, eftpos terminals and security alarms may be less easy to shift across to fibre. Making those work will usually be a service-provider responsibility, MacMahon says.New Zealand is an expensive country for telecommunications by international standards, but installation of UFB brings down the wholesale price of a fibre connection markedly, he says. Existing fibre infrastructure belonging to Chorus and the other local fibre companies will be repriced downward as it is incorporated into UFB.A domestic copper POTS + DSL connection costs about $60/month wholesale from Chorus and an analogous fibre connection, giving 30 Mbps downstream and 10 Mbps upstream will be $37.50. Moreover, says MacMahon, the fibre network, even if split among users, using the GPON technology, will not slow down under contention, even with everyone dealing with heavy traffic.Retail fibre offerings currently available run from $75 to $99 a month for a 30Mbps down, 10 Mbps up service. Schools are already making intelligent use of fibre, MacMahon says; to increase the number of devices supported (some of them pupils' BYO technology) and to save on costs such as photocopying by putting more content online.In the business sector, MacMahon sees increased wide-area networking, a facility he says is currently underutilised by NZ companies that have regional offices in smaller centres. UFB will enable the company to put files and applications in the cloud with efficient service to all branches, and to back up data much more efficiently. There are a range of factors inhibiting teleworking and they're mostly social and organisational rather than technological, MacMahon acknowledges.We shouldn't expect government to come up with all the answers on broadband uses, he says. A number of communities have set up "digital leadership forums" where the council of chamber of commerce invites local stakeholders "for tea and sandwiches" to talk over the potential uses they see in their area.The leaders tend to be the enterprises with their own ICT team and close contact with their telecommunications provider. Small and medium businesses are harder to reach.

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