Opinion: Embarking on a new national conversation

The state of competition and investment in our telecommunications sector has never been better

With an election just over — and a new government in formation — we are about to embark on a national conversation about the digital economy and the place of fibre in helping achieve our growth objectives.

Unsurprisingly, the sector is awash with reports and articles and powerpoints and agendas and lobbying; some of it patently self-interested; some altruistic but naive.

As we embark on that conversation, I have a simple message: the state of competition and investment in our telecommunications sector has never been better. This is a dynamic that is to be treasured, nurtured, developed and leveraged to take NZ to the next level — whatever that is.

I was surprised when I joined the TCF to discover an industry that was a lot more harmonious and collaborative than was evident from the outside. Sure, there are some significant differences of view but, despite that, the players have developed a level of maturity that enables them to work through complex and difficult issues that in the past would have led to an unseemly cat-fight. In my view, this is a very welcome — albeit unexpected — result of the 2006 reforms.

The level of competitive rivalry has reached unprecedented levels.

In mobile we have seen the entry of the first of a new generation of MVNOs with the launch of Black+White. The signs of NZ Communications frenetic network build are to be seen across the country and we look forward to seeing them in the market in the near future. Both Telecom and Vodafone have committed to significant expansions of their networks that will see the advanced mobile data services that we enjoy in the cities spread to the rest of the country. Overall, that’s more than $1 billion of new investment in mobile alone.

In the fixed world, the unbundling of Chorus’ exchanges is proceeding apace with Orcon, Vodafone and TelstraClear announcing significant plans. All of Auckland is now unbundled leading to fresh competitive rivalry and the introduction of new technologies (such as VDSL2), new services and new pricing packages. Other centres are set to follow. The mischievously named “naked DSL” has also led to a new generation of VoIP-based services to both businesses and residences.

Partly below the surface, the deployment of fibre across the country is also accelerating, with many centres now enjoying inter-city fibre connections from three or more providers. The fibre infrastructure within cities is also expanding, partly on the back of mobile and unbundling roll-outs, and partly as an end in their own right. And let’s not forget Telecom’s FTTN programme which will deliver hundreds of kilometres of new fibre as well as improved broadband.

Across all of the above initiatives, fixed infrastructure investment in the order of $2 billion to $3 billion has been committed, with overwhelming interest in the Broadband Investment Fund indicating a latent interest in going even further.

And last, but by no means least, there are new opportunities opening up in the wireless world, with fresh spectrum and new technologies (most notably WiMax) hitting the market. Wireless technologies are now able to deliver speed and performance that is competitive with copper-based services.

They have a critical role in the last-mile, the last-few-metres and in delivering broadband to rural New Zealand. Together with recently launched satellite services, reasonably priced, reasonable standard broadband is now available to 100% of New Zealand.

Without a doubt we are already on a trajectory to a fibre-rich future, and to delivering advanced broadband to every New Zealander. As we embark on a national conversation about fibre-to-the-premises let’s not forget how much we have already achieved and let’s make sure we leverage this new found vitality to achieve our ultimate aspirations.

Chivers is CEO of the telecommunications service provider group the Telecommunications Carriers' Forum.

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