Vodafone on Rural Broadband

A guest post by Steve Rieger, Vodafone’s General Manager of Wholesale and New Business Development:

Rural Broadband – an easy answer

The Telecom-Vodafone joint bid for the Government’s Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) has certainly got attention.  Who would have thought that these traditional arch enemies would entertain such a partnership?  Well, it’s the right thing to do to deliver a step change in connectivity for New Zealand’s rural community and moreover we think it’s the way of the future.

We think rural Kiwis deserve high speed broadband, wider mobile coverage and a choice of service provider.  That shouldn’t just be the preserve of the city-dwellers.  That’s why our solution – a new open-access network which combines fibre and wireless gives better bang for the tax-payer’s buck.  It equips New Zealand’s economic heartland, which accounts for 60 percent of New Zealand’s exports, for the 21st century.

So what will we deliver?  Fibre to 97 percent of rural schools and a minimum of 5Mbps broadband service to 80 percent of rural households within six years and priority users with fibre-based broadband services.  That’s a minimum of 5Mbps.  In time we will deliver more.  And, we will deliver it faster than the government’s timetable.

The solution looks like this: Chorus will extend Telecom’s existing fibre infrastructure to key rural points of presence, including schools and hospitals.  Vodafone will expand its wireless infrastructure to deliver wireless high speed broadband.  Chorus will build the fibre and DSL network and Vodafone will build the mobile towers.  XT and Vodafone will put their cellular equipment on the towers and provide independent services to their wholesale and MVNO customers as well as directly to retail customers.

The key is open access.  Anyone will be able to offer a retail service over the new infrastructure, whether fibre or wireless, on an equivalent basis.  2degrees, XT and regional wifi operators will be able to put their equipment on the towers and provide independent services to their customers, competing on equal terms.  The result – strong retail competition and a real choice of retail solutions and providers for rural customers.

We think this model is the new state of the telecommunications industry.  We compete vigorously on one hand and cooperate on the other.  The design of this solution means we will continue to be fierce retail competitors – and have created a platform that enables other operators to compete with us.  Trying to deliver this as a sole operator just doesn’t stack up economically.

Our proposed solution delivers choice to rural customers: either fixed broadband, or fixed wireless broadband.  In delivering wireless broadband we provide additional social advantages by enabling wider use of mobile voice and text, two important communication channels for individuals and communities.

Why not fibre to the farm? The economics just don’t stack up.  International best practice for rural communities is to deliver broadband over wireless networks.  Ireland, Germany, the US and Australia have all gone this way.  It means rural families can stay connected at home and on the farm, reducing geographical and social isolation.

Wireless is also future-proofed.  It means next generation mobile technologies such as 4G (otherwise known as Long Term Evolution – LTE), can be rolled out to rural users at the same time it’s made available to urban customers.  4G will offer faster data rates, lower latency, shorter delays and loading times, and ultimately a better experience.

Vodafone and Telecom can bridge the urban/rural digital divide in New Zealand, give other players equal access to the infrastructure, and deliver choice to rural New Zealand.

The Minister expects to make a decision by Christmas.

I am a big fan of the open access nature of the proposal, and think it is a model for future mobile expansion.

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