Tuhoe to roll out network to 2,000 homes

Wireless backbone rollout will take eight months over rugged country

New Zealand’s first iwi-focused wireless broadband project is being rolled out by the Tuhoe tribe. It will see around 2,000 homes linked in a $1.5 million, three-year project.

Broadband supplier Rural Link and the Ministry of Economic Development, which is part-funding the project, are in the process of signing-off on the development. Roll-out due to begin in September.

Tuhoe Education Authority liaison officer Riaka Hiakita says the work of installing the “backbone” of transmitters will take about eight months, as it involves some of the country’s roughest and most isolated terrain. Connections to homes will follow.

The TEA will manage the project, with support from Hamilton-based Rural Link, and the iwi’s own ISP, Tuhoe Online.

“We have been doing a lot of training with Rural Link [and have] trained-up home installers and erectors of the system,” he says.

The iwi is already a rural broadband pioneer, as in an earlier project it linked four schools together. This was then expanded to include 40 homes.

However, this original project, which was

completed under the government’s Project Probe scheme, has its limitations, as the broadband service is “expensive and has issues around speed and quality for video-conferencing,” says Hiakita.

So the iwi, along with Rural Link and others, looked at alternatives, to take the project further. They deciding that cabling the area from south of Whakatane to Lake Waikaremoana would be too expensive. The set-up and ongoing costs of a satellite service were also prohibitive, which left wireless as the “most affordable” solution despite the difficult terrain.

“There will be huge benefits in terms of social and economic development. Schools can look a lot more at e-learning as we wire and connect Tuhoe communities,” says Hiakita.

Murray Pearson, Rural Link’s chief technology officer, says the project, which was designed 18 months ago, is the result of a five-year relationship with the Tuhoe.

“It will certainly be the largest wi-fi network geographically,” he says.

“We will do everything terrestrially, installing repeater stations on hills within line of sight.”

Rural Link, a joint-venture between the University of Waikato and rural IT provider Rezare systems, was set up to commercialise the work of the university’s WAND network research group.

It has rolled out smaller projects in the rural Waikato, including a 50-home project in Te Pahu, which was completed in May, under the Broadband Challenge initiative.

A similar 10-20 home project in Ngaroma, a farming community 50 kms south-east of Hamilton, is also under way.

Typically, the communities have no broadband option other than satellite.

“The technology we use is wi-fi 5.8GHz for the back-haul,” explains Pearson. This allows plans from a 512kbit/s basic plan, for $45 a month, to business and premium plans of 1Mbit/s.

“A key part of Rural Link is engaging with the communities,” he adds.

Marketing manager Shaun Braganza says Rural Link first builds a relationship with a community; gets them motivated to form a broadband society, and then the company brings a proposal to them.

“We have internet as good as or better than in the big cities”, says Bill Bailey, a technician and administrator at the Te Pahu Broadband Society. “We have modern communications. People are downloading television from Europe, and the young ones enjoy video and games they could not have before. It’s made a huge impact on individuals and our community”.