The Rural Connectivity Group (RCG) has completed its first tower as part of the next phase of the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI2) and the Mobile Black Spots Fund Programme (MBSF), in Haast in the West Coast.
The RCG is a joint venture established by Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees to deliver the RBI2 and MBSF. The previous National Government awarded the $250 million contract – which will involve the construction of over 400 cellphone towers – to the RCG in August last year.
The RCG, in partnership with Crown Infrastructure Partners, is contracted to deliver new mobile and wireless broadband coverage to at least 30,000 rural homes and businesses, provide mobile coverage to a further 1000 kilometres of state highways and connectivity to at least 90 tourist destinations by December 2022.
Communications Minister Clare Curran says the Haast tower has been switched on three weeks earlier than planned. It follows a community meeting that she and Rural Communities Minister Damien O’Connor attended in March to address safety concerns about the lack of mobile coverage for residents and tourists.
The 3G tower uses satellites to connect to the national network for voice and text services but high speed broadband won’t be available until a permanent 4G solution for Haast and other locations on the West Coast can be built.
“Haast sits in the middle of a 244 kilometre mobile reception blackspot that runs from Fox Glacier to Lake Hawea. Contacting emergency services has previously been very difficult and in an area that sees a huge amount of tourist traffic, as well as a significant number of road accidents, we needed to take this urgent action,” Curran says.
“The tower gives coverage to the township and State Highway 6 north and east of Haast for around three kilometres. Residents and visitors will be able to text and make phone calls on three mobile networks – Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees.
“Sections of SH6 between Fox Glacier and Lake Hawea will also have coverage by the end of the year when between six and eight small roadside mobile sites will be placed on NZTA land, rest areas and on private land where available, along that section of highway,” Curran says.