Hamilton IT scene: Ultra Fast Broadband starts now

Central North Island fibre company must roll out 2km of fibre every working day for five years

From its lush, pastoral landscape has sprung some of the country’s most innovative technology solutions and enduring private companies. From its university, there arose the first, fledgling internet connections between New Zealand and the world. The Waikato region has produced some of this country’s leading IT innovation. So what is the Hamilton IT scene like today?

In the first instalment of Computerworld's focus on Hamilton, we visit the newly formed Ultra Fast Broadband Limited (UBL). The Local Fibre Company is a partnership between WEL Networks and Crown Fibre Holdings. It will roll out a fibre network in Hamilton, Tauranga, Wanganui, Cambridge, Te Awamutu, New Plymouth, Hawera and Tokoroa.

UBL’s sole employee, Maxine Elliot (pictured above with Shane Hobson), has moved from Auckland to take up the role of chief executive. Her previous role was head of Vector’s communications division, which she led during the deployment of the North Shore Education Access Loop (NEAL), and which was built with funding from the previous Labour government.

Vector’s bid for the Auckland LFC failed, as Chorus was awarded the region.

UBL was allocated 12 percent of the build and over time, as customers connect to the network, WEL Network’s shareholding in the LFC will increase, allowing Elliot to directly employ more staff. In the meantime, a company call Ultra Fast Limited (UFL), wholly owned by WEL Networks, has been established and that contracts to UBL.

Among UFL’s employees is Shane Hobson, who was part of Velocity Networks (which WEL Networks has acquired) and who will liaise with Retail Service Providers interested in providing services on the UBL network.

Computerworld caught up with both Elliott and Hobson at the WEL Networks offices in Te Rapa, one of the first areas in which the new fibre network will be deployed. Elliott says, if all goes according to plan, retail service providers will be selling UBL services from March next year.

The contract stipulates that UBL must complete the roll out by July 2016.

“We’ve got to maintain a pace of 2km of (deploying fibre) network every working day for five years, about 3,000 kms of network across the whole region,” says Hobson.

“Assuming an uptake of 25 percent across the network in five years, it works out as a customer connection rate of 35 customers a day, which to some people may not sound like a big number but that’s 35 front lawns we’re digging across. It’s not just going down to the exchange and changing some jumpers, we’ve literally got to send a bloke out with a digger, dig across the lawn and put the cable in.”

Elliott says they will use directional drilling to lay the cable from the curb to the home and at the peak of the roll out 30 crews will be operating (UBL has contracted Transfield to carry out the physical work). About 60 percent of the build will be underground and 40 percent overhead.

UBL is working closely with Enable Networks in Christchurch and the two LFCs are likely to pick the same technology partner for layer one and two services (subsequently announced as Huawei), and may also share resources such as the same Network Operation Centre to monitor the networks.

Elliott says UBL is working with Chorus to lease its ducts wherever possible and it will house its core network inside Chorus exchanges to make it as easy as possible for retail service providers who may already have equipment in existing telephone exchanges to migrate to fibre services.

In addition, UBL is working in conjunction with Enable and Northpower in Whangarei to create standard terms for the three LFCs with help from the Telecommunications Carriers Forum. Once those standards are completed, they can start signing up RSPs.

The UBL rollout will be a mix of Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) for homes and SMEs, and point-to-point for businesses and large organisations such as schools and hospitals. Hobson says in addition to lit fibre, there will be dark fibre services available.

UBL can’t specify what plans RSPs should offer but Hobson says he expects to see some innovative packages that tariff local, national and international traffic separately.

“It will create incentives for them to create or retain content locally, faster local access networks make peering more attractive so that the traffic stay within the city,” he says.

As the fibre is laid to major uses, households are likely to be offered services too. Under the contract with CFH, UBL pays for the connection from the curb to the home up to 30 metres.

Elliott says UBL will become a region where retail service providers can test new fibre products before offering them nationwide. She expects many of the smaller, regionally-based RSPs to create new fibre packages and these will spur the larger providers into offering innovative plans.

“We’re not allowed to market directly to the end user but we do think, particularly being a community-owned company, that we do have a role to play in terms of education and assistance and we’re working with the councils and their economic development departments to try and help them also get out into the community and raise awareness and educate people,” she says.

* This is the first in a series of articles about the Hamilton IT scene. Tomorrow Computerworld visits Gallagher's research and development general manager Rob Heebink.

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