This month's column is brought to you by the letter C, which is the first letter of many powerful terms that I come across every day.
Take ‘content’ for instance. This can refer to anything filling an empty space. My writing is content, but you can also use the word to describe whatever goes into a toilet bowl. Despite being empty of specific qualities, Content is King.
Content is hugely important. It’s the basis of network business cases and infrastructure projects: without content, nobody will buy snappy Ultra-Fast Broadband connections, apparently.
Sky TV has first dibs - and sometimes exclusive rights - on most content that’s expected to go directly to consumers on the UFB network. Sky TV has signed deals with some ISPs to unmeter its TV data: tough luck on competitors such as Quickflix that aren’t allowed such zero-rating deals.
Content also requires fast delivery, with no buffering. People advocate local content delivery networks (CDNs) because they’ve heard that the standard internet protocol TCP doesn’t work well over a long distance internet.
That’s only true if you try to download something from an overseas CDN that doesn’t enable the built-in features of TCP which deal with large latency and packet loss. Many CDN operators don’t enable those TCP features for commercial reasons: they want ISPs in distant destinations to buy their expensive CDNs.
The bad news is that CDNs break the end-to-end principle of the internet, do nothing for upstream traffic and - as shown above - can slow it down.
The irony is that we don’t need a UFB network to deliver content. We already have the excellent digital Freeview service which pumps out gigabits of high-definition video and audio to homes in New Zealand every day.
Giving Freeview a few hundred million dollars to buy content rights and to subsidise set-top boxes would’ve been a far better content delivery deal than the UFB. Add a bit more money to let Freeview set up a 3G - or even LTE - mobile virtual network operator service for interactivity and New Zealand would’ve been competitively covered in content by now.
Where is the UFB anyway? The UFB is a year old now but there doesn’t appear to be a single retail connection sold as yet.
In Australia, the National Broadband Network has been truck-rolling along since 2009. There have been a few controversies and lots of opposition MPs saying that DSL should be good enough for anyone, but overall everything is in the open.
There is coruscating clarity at the NBN compared to New Zealand UFB. Here, the c-level executives believe in commercial confidentiality and don’t communicate a great deal as to what we can expect and when.
Being impatient, I asked the freshly demerged Chorus in November last year to clarify when residential customers could expect UFB connections. I didn’t get a clear answer to that. Chorus told me it’s still developing the long term deployment plan for a phased roll-out across all twenty-four regions awarded to it by the government.
Now, I was surprised to hear that Chorus was awarded the vast majority of the UFB contract without a deployment plan agreed upon with Crown Fibre Holdings - the government agency that’s in charge of the whole project - but again, I received no explanation to that.
However, progress is being made on the CFH’s UFB contracts, which are different for Chorus, Ultrafast Fibre, Enable and Northpower, the network builders for the project. Why are they different? We’re not told that - but Chorus got the best deal in the contract negotiations by a country mile.
The three Local Fibre Companies will provide a double-span aerial drop lead, and up to thirty metres of buried lead-in for the cables connecting premises, whereas Chorus has to do only half that work: a single-span aerial drop lead and fifteen metres worth of buried lead-in cable. That short length would put many properties on sub-divided sections in Auckland out of reach of the UFB, unless the owners paid extra for installation.
Why would CFH provide Chorus with a better deal than the LFCs? I can’t tell, and it appears neither can the government. Minister Adams’ office tells me that the government is aware of the issue and is working through things with Chorus and the LFCs.
Either way, Chorus updated coverage maps show that most of Auckland, my area included, won’t get UFB until 2019 at the earliest so it doesn’t really matter.
Move to Australia if you want broadband. That’s pretty much official. Chur.
Juha Saarinen, firstname.lastname@example.org