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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 07 April 2017, 4:54 pm

Here's this week's Brislen on Tech, from TechBlog editor Paul Brislen.

Stepped in something rural

A funny thing happened with the announcement of the RBI2 tenders this week.

RBI2 is the extension to the Rural Broadband Initiative, a project which dovetailed with the UFB fibre to the home build but which offered a blend of technologies to deliver broadband speeds to rural New Zealand.

The project was hailed a success, even as questions were asked about just how many customer had signed up for RBI services.

Vodafone and Chorus submitted a joint bid that offered fibre to the node, DSL copper services to those in reach off the end of that and fixed-wireless service (basically Vodafone's 3G service) off the end of that. And as a byproduct, Vodafone agreed to help fill in some of the blackspots in the back country areas that have been such a cause for concern. Now to get them to fix the city end of Dominion Road. Just saying.

RBI2 took that model one step further, hoping to increase the speeds on offer and extend the range of service out into the very very back of beyond.

Chorus has submitted a bid under its own steam - one that talks up fibre and DSL copper services.

Vodafone this time has found new chums: Spark and 2Degrees.

Yes, the triumvirate of mobile network operators have come together to suggest a package deal that will see them build towers, use digital microwave links for backhaul and (whisper it) share the Radio Access Network hardware on each of the towers.

One network to rule them all.

This is not uncommon elsewhere in the world. In Australia, Crown Castle has bought all of the network operators kit and reduced duplication so there's basically one network for all the cellphone operators each of which have their own spectrum and service levels.

That's never happened in New Zealand, and I'm told the reason why is the Resource Management Act which says such things as cellphone towers must be built to a minimum level of impact on the environment. That's precluded having towers tall enough to support multiple RANs and so, in the past, has limited the amount of amalgamation that could go ahead.

Whether the big three win the bid remains to be seen. I'm not sure DMR can provide the backhaul necessary for true broadband services in this day and age (my kids like to saturate the link just watching Netflix) but the players hope that at the least they should be able to buy vastly cheaper backhaul from fibre operators once the changes to the RMA go through and installation costs for UFB drop to where they should have been all along.

Who would have thought it, though. The three mobile operators working together. Quite astonishing.

Techblog - Three into one - telcos come together for RBI2 bid

NZ Herald - Telcos pitch together for rural services

Stuff - Mobile carriers forge partnership to snare all the public funds for rural upgrade


Rural Broadband


Unlimited Asterisks

Speaking of phones, this week has seen 2Degrees (and as I write Spark has joined in) launch an Unlimited asterisk data plan for mobile devices.

I say "Unlimited asterisk" because a real unlimited plan would have no limits at all. These two have limits, which beggars the question: "Will the Commerce Commission get grumpy?"

I suspect not because these plans, which allow unlimited use of data so long as you don't tether the phone to another device or breach an "acceptable use policy", are a real step change for the New Zealand market.

Having said that, I do recall Vodafone getting told off for its "unlimited" calls when it launched Best Mate, a service which allowed you to nominate another person whom you could call and talk to as much as you wanted for $6 a month. Vodafone argued that you couldn't use the offer as a kind of "baby monitor" (ie, leave it on all the time) which came in for some flak but was ultimately allowed to stand.

So putting aside the limits of no tethering and an undefined AUP ("Just don't use it too much") how do the plans stack up?

Quite well if what you want is a data-device that also does voice and TXT as a back-up. And let's face it, that's the way of the future.

So well done, 2Degrees, for kick starting this whole revolution and in fact well done all round for bringing disruption to the mobile market. I doubt we'd be looking at the prices and flexibility we have in the market today without 2Degrees being there to drive it on. Well done.

Stuff - 2degrees offers unlimited mobile plan, but says customers need to be 'reasonable'

Stuff - Spark follows 2degrees in launching mobile plan with no fixed cap

NZ Herald - Spark joins 2degrees with unlimited data


R&D tax credits

I can't remember when I first advocated for research and development tax credits. I suspect it was in the lead-up to the election that saw Helen Clark and Labour sweep to power, so back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth.

Indeed, Labour did introduce R&D tax credits but in a muted form and without any real emphasis or attempt to build them in to a broader suite of reforms and economic measures, and they were dumped without much ceremony when John Key's National came to power.

But with New Zealand's R&D spend still on the low side, and no sign of government movement in this area, R&D tax credits are again being mooted as a political football in this year's general election.

In a working paper published this week, the International Monetary Fund describes tax incentives as having a "positive and significant impact" on R&D spending, something which supports Labour's intended move to introduce them if they win the election.

National has remained skeptical despite the evidence on the basis that if R&D were so important to your business you'd do it anyway. Which, let's face it, is a fair call.

But given we are still totally reliant on primary sector produce for our economic stability and given the primary sector's seeming inability to move up the food chain (pun intended) and deliver more value without a "more cows/bigger cows" methodology, and given the rest of the world looking hungrily at artificial foods (beef and milk both being first off the blocks) then it really does behoove us as a nation and as an economy to have a good hard look at anything that will help drive innovation and entrepreneurship.

Otherwise perhaps we should start taking classes in how to say "would you like fries with that" in American accents.

Food Dive - A new Impossible Foods factory will produce 1 million pounds of 'meat' per month

NBR - Tax incentives for R&D could shape up to be an election issue



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