Ultrafast Fibre CEO relishes the 5G opportunity as data usage surges

Ultrafast Fibre CEO relishes the 5G opportunity as data usage surges

But for a very large rock, Ultrafast Fibre would have completed its UFB rollout - two years ahead of schedule

John Hanna (Ultrafast Fibre)

John Hanna (Ultrafast Fibre)

Credit: Supplied

It could take Australia decades to recover from its decision to roll fibre out to the node rather than to the home, says Ultrafast Fibre CEO John Hanna.

Just returned from a conference in Europe, Hanna was excited to see many of the 115 nations represented, apart from the Australians, pushing for 1Gbit/s services to home.

Iceland, for instance, argued such fast services support consumer demand as well as innovation.

Hamilton-based Ultrafast Fibre, one of four local fibre companies delivering the government's ultrafast broadband programme, is already seeing a surge in 1Gbit/s demand, Hanna said. Over 25 per cent of new connections for the last three months opted for high speeds.

Chorus recently began trialing 10Gbit/s services and Ultrafast Fibre expected to follow suit this month, said Hanna, who joined the company in April.

That was hugely exciting, he said, and placed New Zealand very well internationally.

"Most nations are saying if we don't do this we will be left behind. The decisions New Zealand made in the mid- to late- 2000s, I don't think we could have envisioned just how critical those decisions were."

The pivotal moments was choosing to deliver fibre to the premises rather than fibre to the node as Australia has done.

"What a disaster," Hanna said. "They will never recover from that. It will set them back by decades.

"We are already seeing in towns like Whanganui, businesses growing up where you wouldn't normally see them growing up with super high speed productivity."

The customer demographic and uses of fibre is also changing, Hanna said. This was demonstrated dramatically during the recent Rugby World Cup. 

While Ultrafast was expecting a surge in consumption during the cup, it could not have expected that to be eclipsed by an upgrade to the popular computer game Fortnite, which occurred between the quarter-finals and the semi-finals.

"The Fortnite upgrade peak was the highest bandwidth use across the network that New Zealand has ever seen," he said. "That was about a 12 per cent increment over our previous highest peak.

"It was quite extraordinary."

5G only promises to accelerate that further and fibre companies will be major beneficiaries.

That is because where 4G wireless could use microwave for backhaul, 5G needs "great fibre", Hanna said.

"Once we get into millimetre wave, go up to the 26Ghz or millimetre wave, in order to get fibre-like performance you need a cell presence every 50 to 100 metres," Hanna explained.

"If that is going to happen you must have fibre backhaul - and that's fantastic for us."

The point of presence density that 5G will drive also lends itself to thinking about smart cities and smart poles, which in turn could drive the delivery of integrated and shared infrastructure, rather than each carrier building their own 50 metre by 50 metre mesh.

Hanna said he doesn't know what discussions may be going on between the 5G providers, but he noted they are already sharing infrastructure under parts of the rural broadband roll-out.

Another bottleneck is in the home in the form of the wireless routers being used. 

Already, vendors of connected appliances, such as extremely high definition TVs, are starting to deliver "deep fibre" to allow direct connection to fibre networks for peak performance.

Hanna expected automatic configuration and remote network management and troubleshooting to also help reduce the pain now being experienced by some end users.

Meanwhile, Ultrafast Fibre has encountered one solid setback to its ambition to complete its share of the UFB build two years ahead of schedule.

"We would have finished already, literally 3,500 kilometres, then we have a rock in the very last stretch of the very last piece at the very end of the build.

"My head of build came to me and said, 'I think this is going to take another month'.

"I said 'Why?' 

"We found a rock." 

I said 'Is there any way around it?' 


I said 'Can we go over it?' 

"No, it's a really big rock."

Ultrafast had to import special drill bits to bore its way through, the most expensive piece of drilling in the entire network build.

Ultrafast Fibre, which is 85 per cent owned by WEL Networks and 15 per cent by Waipa Networks, is building the UFB network to Hamilton, Tauranga, Te Awamutu, Cambridge, Tokoroa, New Plymouth, Hawera, and Whanganui.  

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