Connecting in the far north: a mini NZ

In the first of a series of reports on telecommunications bandwidth availability in the regions of New Zealand, Paul Brislen puts a call through to the far north.

In the first of a series of reports on telecommunications bandwidth availability in the regions of New Zealand, Paul Brislen puts a call through to the far north.

Northland is home to more than 137,000 New Zealanders, according to the 1996 census. Nearly 4% of New Zealanders live north of Auckland and the region has one of the highest ratios of Maori to European ethnicity — nearly a third of the population claim Maori descent.

Telecommunications-wise, the region is a microcosm of rural New Zealand. Telecom, of course, has all its usual services in place: its local loop allows voice and data services, along with higher-speed offerings like ISDN and leased lines for businesses.

Telecom has recently announced it is spending $1.5 million in Northland to deliver “better connections and services for its customers”. Half this money will go to improvements to the infrastructure while $600,000 will go to improving cellphone reception in the far north. The remaining money will be spent on improving access for schools. Ten schools will take part in a joint government-business education initiative with Telecom providing half of ongoing rental and internet access charges for the two-year programme.

DSL, however, is not an option outside the main city of Whangarei at this stage.

“We are looking at the demand in Kerikeri and Warkworth as well and will consider them later in the year but only if we get sufficient take-up in the area,” says Telecom spokeswoman Mary Parker. By “sufficient”, Parker means “probably thousands” rather than hundreds of users demanding JetStream.

“We can’t go everywhere all at once and we don’t physically have the skilled people on the ground to do it; we have to set priorities.” Parker says Telecom has yet to see the demand from Northland users. “I’m sure there are people in Northland who are demanding it but to justify it we need a volume of people.”

TelstraSaturn may not have infrastructure in Northland but it does offer services to customers beyond the reach of its fibre-optic network.

“Thanks to our wholesale agreement with Telecom we can offer all the usual services — POTS, data, internet — and we have our mobile phone offering from Vodafone as well,” says communications manager Quentin Bright.

Clear Communications has installed a diverse fibre ring between Warkworth, Wellsford and Whangarei, giving its business users access to broadband services for branches in the north.

“Obviously as Clear grows we will be offering more services in more areas around the country,” says Clear spokeswoman Sarah Newcombe.

Ihug offers its normal dial-up services around the country and offers its high-speed satellite service Ultra in Northland.

“We get 98% uptime in most parts of New Zealand. Things like snow and bad weather affect the line but that shouldn’t be much of a problem in Northland,” says co-founder Tim Wood. He says the biggest issue facing Ihug in Northland is installation of its receivers.

“Most of the problems customers do experience can be traced back to incorrect installation — the dish isn’t pointed in quite the right direction.”

Ihug plans to offer a rural modem package that helps deal with the bane of rural users’ lives, electric fence interference. The Dynalink modem, offered with its Ultra package, is designed to block out the noise from the fences, says Ultra brand manager Karli Fountain.

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