Ihug Ultra: new brand, new card, new price

So just what is Ihug's 'faster than the fastest thing that hasn't been invented yet', Ultra?

So just what is Ihug's "faster than the fastest thing that hasn't been invented yet", Ultra?

The ISP began a teaser ad campaign for its new product yesterday, in advance of a full commercial launch in the first week of July.

Ultra is Ihug's SatNet service in a new package. Along with the new brand comes a new, apparently faster, PCI card to enable the service, plus new content and bundled software.

But the most important innovation will probably be new pricing.

Ihug managing director Nick Wood says an internal customer trial is still being assessed to determine the exact pricing, but says there will be no upfront hardware cost to customers.

The cost of entry has been one reason for the painfully slow customer growth since StarNet (as it was then) was introduced about three years ago. But Wood says the uptake of a recent offer to existing customers, used to test Ultra's price point, was strong, boosting Ihug's wireless customer base to around 3500.

The internal trial involved a bundled digital TV and Internet product, but with Ultra the TV service will be a $20 monthly add-on.

The service will be available initially in Auckland via Waiatarua and Sky Tower transmitters and Wood says it will be launched in Wellington and Christchurch - where Telstra Saturn is concentrating its cabling efforts - in September. A direct satellite version and packages for schools are also in development

Wood says the new technology "works faster. We've had sustained throughputs of 4.5Mbit/s, using an analogue modem as the outbound path. Obviously the service will be defined by the price, as to what sort of speed you get at the busiest hour."

Ultra will also leverage Ihug's work on multicast services in the past year, which has already been enthusiastically received by SatNet customers. Wood says newsgroups, email and "favourite Web pages" will be delivered via multicast, to be followed by streaming audio and video, and rental software.

"As time goes by we'll add more and more of that kind of content, because we think that local broadband content is a key element to this kind of service," says Wood.

"The bandwidth is almost limitless locally, but it's the international component that still costs money, so if you can bring in locally-provided content, then the speed to the customer is really, really fast."

As Telecom's JetStream starts to gather steam and the Telstra-Saturn-Chello alliance rolls out, next month's relaunch is shaping up as a crucial event for Ihug's high-speed Internet plans. Wood too, it seems, sees it as a chance to regain the momentum of old.

"It's time for Ihug to do what it does well and deliver the consumer that new product - like flat-rate was four years ago. This is the next iteration - very cost-effective fast access available to pretty much everybody."

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