Vodafone is targeting wireless internet service providers (ISPs) to offer an unlimited rural broadband plan alongside its own Farmside subsidiary.
Vodafone today announced a three-month trial of unlimited broadband services in the Rural Broadband Initiative 2 (RBI2) areas which will see Farmside offer $79.99 per month plans to households.
That offer is open to wireless internet service providers (WISPs) on a wholesale basis.
In February, Vodafone announced it was ramping up its regional network investment, upgrading or building more than 250 mobile cell sites around country.
Ralph Brayham, Vodafone NZ’s acting consumer and small and medium enterprise director said increasing digital inclusion and closing the rural-urban digital divide and offering affordable services in Aotearoa was "incredibly important".
"This involves delivering great connectivity to rural New Zealanders by selling broadband services via Farmside as well as providing wholesale services to WISPs," he said.
WISPs generally operate their own networks built on a range of mostly fixed wireless technologies in areas the big telcos have traditionally underserved.
However, government funding under rural broadband programmes is changing the market.
Mike Smith, chair of the Wireless ISP Association (WISPA), said the RBI2 footprint was a very small part of rural New Zealand and WISPs were also partners in the rural broadband rollouts alongside the Vodafone.
WISPs already resold both wireless and fibre broadband where appropriate within their areas as well as providing their own fixed wireless and other services, he said.
As long as the wholesale rates were equitable, it was good to see that continuing.
"Any time there is government funding and overbuild there is a threat," he said. "Our members do a good job in rural New Zealand nd service more than 50 per cent of farms."
Vodafone said spare network capacity in a number of the recently built RBI2 cell sites enabled the trial, which was launched at the annual Fieldays agricultural show in the Waikato today.
Last year Farmside, which Vodafone acquired in two tranches in 2017 and 2018, launched new products including unlimited daytime data boosters which, Brayham said, have been well received.
"Following the explosion of data use via applications such as Netflix, YouTube and Zoom, we’ve been upgrading the Vodafone network across urban and regional Aotearoa, plus working with the Rural Connectivity Group (RCG) in country areas," Brayham said.
"We’ll be reaching out to households in certain geographical areas to let them know if their address can connect to RBI2 broadband and access unlimited anytime data," Brayham said. "We’ll then assess whether we can offer unlimited RBI2 data plans longer-term.”
RBI2 followed the RBI1 build, which was completed in June 2016 and included 154 new cell towers delivered by Vodafone.
The two initiatives have different capacity constraints, and are delivered under different operating models, which helps determine the range of services Vodafone can provide.