Year in Review: The year the brakes came off broadband

Forget for a moment, if you can, the odd idea that New Zealanders might prefer running around outside kicking a football with bare feet to sitting inside in the dark zipping round the internet over a broadband connection. Let's talk instead about broadband access and what it means for you in business.

Forget for a moment, if you can, the odd idea that New Zealanders might prefer running around outside kicking a football with bare feet to sitting inside in the dark zipping round the internet over a broadband connection. Let's talk instead about broadband access and what it means for you in business.

Why is it important? Simple answer: speed. Speed equals business in this era -- if you're first to market, first to provide a solution, faster at responding to problems than your competitors, first to meet your customers' needs, first to find new customers, you're ahead of the game. Simple, really.

Big business has known about the value of speed in its communications for years. Electronic document interchange systems have been de rigueur since the internet was in boot camp, and as more information is gathered and disseminated, being able to do so quickly and without fuss has become more important. Forget dialling up, logging on and checking your email once a week on that computer in the corner -- even though most of the reported world-beating 75% of New Zealanders online would do it this way -- data has to follow you around these days like a lost puppy.

This year has seen the start of the real broadband revolution in New Zealand. That's the good news. The better news is that next year we should see some real competition and possibly the year after that we might even see the prices come down. Say it ain't so!

Telecom's had a tough time of it this year, broadband wise. First of all, the government-mandated review of unbundling Telecom's network has so far suggested that, yes, we should. While the final report is still days away, and the government's carefully measured response will come some time after that, indications are that Telecom won't be pleased with what it finds in its stocking this year. In the very short term this means absolutely nothing to the end users. In the medium term we should see competitors offering cheaper broadband services on Telecom's network. The long-term view really does depend on who you talk to. Telecom would have you believe that the move to unbundle means the end to innovation and competitive services in New Zealand. Despite their submissions on the matter, the two largest off-loop competitors, BCL and Woosh, have both told me they have no plans to stop developing, investing and enlarging their networks and customer bases whether unbundling is introduced or not. Telecom's contention that it underwrote BCL's network rollout hasn't sat well with BCL's team. Telecom would do well to remember that BCL is a wholesaler and will be offering service to other non-Telecom companies like Ihug and ICONZ that will compete head-to-head with Telecom's wireless offerings.

Telecom's current broadband offering, JetStream, also ran aground with the revelation that instead of being well on track to hit its 100,000 broadband customer mark by the end of 2004 it is woefully behind with only 13,000 customers.

Woosh and BCL's network launches were also big news this year. Woosh offers service in around 40% of Auckland's residential market and plans to hit 70% by year's end. Wellington and Christchurch are next, along with its Project Probe wins, and the company plans to add voice service early next year.

BCL's Extend network is rapidly reaching full strength, and despite the $1500 installation fee shocker it should prove popular among those users beyond the reach of copper.

Wired Country, however, is clearly the winner on the day, not only launching its south Auckland fibre/wireless hybrid service but expanding into Hamilton and also planning a voice service. Best of all is its pricing structure -- buy the 128kbit/s service and you'll receive 10 times the speed for the same price. Neil Simmonds, CEO at Wired Country owner Counties Power, deserves to have his comment reiterated: why ration a resource that isn't scarce? Hopefully 2004 will be the year the brakes come off the broadband market.

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