Ultra-fast broadband (UFB) is the way of the future. It uses fibre (optical cable) that offers higher speeds and has the capacity to send more data through simultaneously than ADSL broadband.
Why you need it
If you don’t think you want fibre in your home right now, you probably will soon. The amount of information being shared on the internet is growing at a huge rate. Remember the difference between old dial-up internet and ADSL broadband; no one would ever go back to dial-up.
It’s not just browsing websites, but uploading photos to online storage, communicating over video and streaming music, TV shows and movies. UFB’s allowance for simultaneous signals means no slowdown when lots of people in your neighbourhood use the internet at the same time.
The UFB roll-out is happening in stages. The first stage covers 33 towns and cities though some urban areas won’t have fibre until 2019. By the end of the second stage, 80 percent of New Zealanders will have fibre installed in their street and available to be installed in their home. For a guide to when your area will get fibre, see broadbandmap.nz. Rural areas are covered by the Rural Broadband Initiative and so may wait longer for coverage.
While getting fibre installed into your home can be a long process, the results are worth it.
But before you sign up, you’ll need to decide what speed, data cap and price you want, then you need to figure out the installation. The last part takes the longest, especially if you live in a rental property, on a shared driveway, or in an apartment, but you’ll be guided through the process by the installer.
While ADSL is a flat rate speed and you only choose your data cap, UFB is all about speed. The first thing you choose when signing up is the speed you want.
Upload and download speeds are measured in “bits per second”, usually “megabits per second” (Mb/s or Mbps).
Plans list speeds as X/Y Mbps, where X is download speed and Y is upload speed. For example, some UFB plans are advertised as 100/20. Download speeds are important for internet tasks such as surfing websites or watching video streaming services. Upload speeds are how quickly you can send stuff, such as attaching files to an email, uploading video to YouTube, or sending photos to a cloud service. So the bigger the files you want to send, the faster the upload speed you’ll want.
Fibre plans start with download speeds of 30Mbps and can go up to 200Mbps, with 100Mbps being the most common. Upload speeds don’t have as much variation, with most offering from 10Mbps to 20Mbps, though there are plans with 50Mbps and some “synchronous” 100/100 plans available.
The step up from ADSL to fibre is astounding; for most consumers ADSL’s download speed reaches 10-15Mbps at the best of times and usually sits closer to 5Mbps.
If you think about download speeds as the time taken to transfer a file, the difference is clear. For example, downloading a 5GB file goes from roughly an hour on ADSL to 22 minutes on a 30Mbps plan, and on a 100Mbps plan it’s only 6 minutes! See comparing download speeds.
After a competition run by Chorus, some parts of Dunedin can get Gigabit (Gbps) plans, which are the fastest speeds currently available at 1000/500 Mbps. Ultrafast Fibre, which is building the network in Hamilton, Te Awamutu, Cambridge, New Plymouth, Tokoroa, Hawera, Whanganui and Tauranga, also has Gigabit plans on offer. Downloading a 5GB file on a Gigabit plan takes 40 seconds.
Prices and data caps
Surprisingly, given the difference in speeds, prices are almost the same for ADSL and fibre plans. For example, Spark's naked ADSL plan with unlimited data costs $90 per month, which is the same as its naked 30/10 Mbps UFB unlimited data plan. A 100/20 Mbps plan is only $10 per month more (see our table for price comparisons). Note that currently all UFB plans have the same pricing structure. However, some ISPs offer extras such as subscriptions to streaming services.
Data caps for UFB plans generally come in two sizes: 80GB and unlimited. (Some ISPs offer a 40GB plan if bundled with a phone line.) While the 80GB cap is cheaper, we recommend going unlimited. On UFB, you will consume more data than you might normally, simply because you can. For example, if you watch streaming services it’s easy to go through 200GB a month.
Monthly prices and data caps
While you might be able to get super-fast internet into your home, there are a few factors that can slow it down. The main one is your wireless router.
Depending on how old your router is and what bands it broadcasts on, your speeds will vary. Think of it like a high-pressure hose being connected to a nozzle that can only let out a trickle.
The two main bands routers use are 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The 5GHz band can transfer more data and is considered a more stable signal.
Routers use different standards of WiFi represented by letters: b, g, n and ac. The newest one, and the one you want, is “ac” as it allows for the fastest speeds over your home network. The other standards won’t give you speeds that maximise your fibre connection.
To ensure you get the fastest speeds, your WiFi-enabled devices also need to use the ac standard. Older devices may not be compatible and while the internet connection will work, it won’t be as fast as newer devices.
Once you’ve chosen your ISP and plan, then you need to get fibre installed to your home. The process differs depending on where you live.
For most people, getting fibre from the street to your door is simple and only involves you. However, the installation can be frustrating if you’re not prepared. Each part of the process can have delays and relies on other people (see our consent process graphic).
For the most part you’ll be dealing with an installer from a company, such as Chorus. These companies install fibre all over the country and deal with the physical parts of the UFB network. Each region has different installation companies, also called “wholesale providers” or “Local Fibre Companies” (LFC); it’s similar to electricity, with lines providers being separate from power providers.
Your ISP deals with the non-physical parts of your UFB connection. They are called “retail service providers” (RSP). You can find out who is selling fibre in your area by checking crownfibre.govt.nz.
Step 1: Choosing an ISP
After you’ve checked the broadband map to see if UFB is available in your area, look at all the ISPs in your area and decide on which package – speed and data cap – you’d like.
After choosing an ISP, contact them like you would any other service. The ISP will contact the LFC which will be doing the installation. The ISP is always your first point of contact for any matters including technical support, but during the installation the LFC will be talking to you directly.
Step 2: Consent
As mentioned, most owner-occupiers in self-contained homes won’t need consent. If you live in a right of way, apartment building or your business shares premises you will need to get consent from your neighbours, landlord or body corporate before fibre can be installed. This is a requirement of current property law.
Consent has to be obtained from everyone in the shared situation – for example, everyone on a shared driveway or everyone in your apartment building. If you’re renting, you need the consent of your landlord.
This is done via mail, so can take some time. To speed up the process, we recommend you talk to all involved parties first. Consent is required so the fibre installer can put the fibre in, and also has future access for maintenance, repairs or to connect other users.
Remember, the installation process can’t start until all consent documents are in.
Step 3: Pre-installation
After all required consents are obtained, the installer will make an appointment with you to discuss how they’ll install the fibre into your home. In most cases, fibre will be delivered to your house in the same way as your current internet - for example, via an underground pipe or aerial cable.
If you’re in a shared situation, the LFC will make the fibre available to everyone, but it will only be installed in your home. To use the hose analogy again; everyone potentially has access to the new water pipe, but you’re the only one getting a tap put in.
When the LFC comes for the first meeting, you’ll discuss and decide where the optical network terminator (ONT) will be in your home and where the external termination point (ETP) will be outside your home. The ONT and ETP are the boxes the fibre goes into from the road.
The position of the ONT is important. Most people place them in behind their TV as this is the point with the most data traffic. It also has flashing lights, so keep it out of your bedroom.
Once everything for installation is agreed, you sign off the plan with the installer. Thoroughly read the plan and the installation contract. The installer will repair any damage it does but has limits on liability coverage.
Any extra costs?
For most residential properties, there won’t be any charges to install fibre but in some situations there can be some costs to look out for:
- Requesting another install option from the road to the property. For example, if you remove an existing aerial cable and replace it with an underground cable.
- Electrical work to add additional power plugs that might be required for the installation. For example, if you want your ONT placed behind the TV and don’t have a socket there.
- Moving the ONT after it’s been installed, if you change your mind.
- Getting additional hard wiring done inside the home to get “fibre sockets” in your home (that are connected to the ONT). For example, gamers might want their own fibre socket.
Step 4: Connection
The next step is getting the fibre from the road to your home. This part you don’t need to be home for. The installer follows the plan you agreed to and connects the fibre to your home’s ETP.
Then, at a separate time, a technician comes to your property and completes the internal wiring and installation of the ONT. You’ll have to be there for this part and it can take a long time; potentially up to four hours.
With high demand from all over New Zealand and the consents that have to be obtained, getting UFB can be a time-consuming process. Be mindful of this when you contact an ISP to get UFB.
If you need consents, we recommend you talk to your neighbours first and let them know they’ll be getting consent forms and what it all means. Remember if you, or your neighbours, have a landlord who is overseas it’s good to contact them and get their consent to get the process started.
Report by Hadyn Green.