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What next for the telcos?

Paul Brislen, Editor. 30 March 2020, 9:53 am

What next for our telecommunications infrastructure?

New Zealand is well placed to weather the storm that is COVID-19. Our telecommunications sector upgrades of the past decade have delivered a stable, future-proofed state of the art fibre to the home network, three national 4G networks and the start of a fight to deliver 5G.

In rural and remote New Zealand there is a definite lag in terms of capability and reach - a gap which the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) is intended to help close - but even with the Wireless ISPs (WISPS) in action, there's still a long way to go.

What it all means for the sector is still to pan out but hugely increased residential user demand coupled with a drop-off in CBD fibre services, a move to unlimited data accounts rather than capped plans and urgent demand for rural connectivity will reshape the sector for some time to come.

In wireless, the push to deploy 5G is on, albeit with the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) pulling the upcoming auction until such time as everyone can figure out how much to charge per chunk of spectrum.

This surely is a time where the industry and government need to move to a new model, one that encourages fast widespread deployment rather than just rakes in some money for the government coffers. Perhaps a quick-fire round of "how can we make sure each player has enough to go round" followed by "spend the money on building not on licences" and we can go from there?

Perhaps we can incentivise building wireless capability in regional New Zealand ahead of the cities? I don't know, but we need to think about these things and soon.

And now that the fibre companies have deployed UFB1, how about pushing out more fibre further into the regions? There are places around the outskirts of the cities that struggle because they're off the fibre footprint but don't quite get RBI - these places are also at risk of falling behind.

Chorus should be encouraged to get everyone off copper as quickly as possible (I'm sure they need no enticement but the older dears who cling to their copper lines surely do) because the cost of maintaining a second, declining network is a drain the company does not need. Plus as more services are delivered online the need for better internet connectivity is starting to outweigh the need for PSTN voice calling.

And then there's the rest of us. Already I see companies turning swiftly to the internet to maintain their relationships with customers. While the supermarkets are struggling to scale pick up and delivery options, smaller players are moving swiftly. At least one company that provides fruit and fresh milk to corporates is now offering a home delivery service and others will be working out how to connect with customers who no longer go to shopping malls or the city centres. If we're locked down for months (or have a series of lockdowns over the next 12-18 months) then companies will need to adjust accordingly if they're to survive.

The initial rush to get everyone out of the office and home is largely complete. Now we have to hunker down for the long haul.


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