NZs biggest data hogs revealed as broadband use hits another all-time high

COMMENT/ANALYSIS:

The latest stats from Chorus, which operates the lion’s share of the UFB fibre network, show broadband use hitting another all-time high.

A regional breakdown (see table below) also reveals the nation’s biggest data hog: Auckland.

That’s no surprise, given the Auckland region has also been the most locked-down since the outbreak, which translates to the most remote working, cloud computing, online gaming and Squid Game-binging.

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The average Auckland household’s monthly data consumption increased from 379 gigabytes in 2019 to 619GB in October this year.

That’s across fibre and copper. Taking copper customers out of the equation, the average bumps up to 672GB.

In October, the average download speed across Chorus’ network was 226 megabits per second, an increase of 85 per cent from the average speed in October 2019. Fibre customers saw a 48 per cent increase across that same two-year period, from 194Mbps to 288 Mbps.

That puts us neck-and-neck with the world’s best.

The underlying technology just keeps getting better. Chorus recently lifted the top speed of its premium UFB product, Hyperfibre, to 8 gigabits per second (8000Mbps), with further bandwidth boosts on the way.

And to top off the speed thrills good news for Chorus, the latest round of independent testing for the Commerce Commission has re-confirmed fibre’s position as easily the fastest internet option – and also the option least affected, by a long shot, by latency under load, or lag that occur when traffic is heavy.

Spark and Vodafone will have the legitimate beef that the testing only includes 4G fixed-wireless, not the much faster and much lower-latency 5G fixed-wireless.

But still the watchdog’s overall verdict was clear.

The Commerce Commission says its report shows that during Auckland’s latest lockdown, “Fibre broadband connections performed significantly better than other broadband technologies, such as copper-based ADSL or fixed wireless, when the connection was being used for multiple purposes at the same time.”

So on the speed thrills front, Chorus is in clover.

“In 2011, at the start of the Ultra-Fast Broadband build, 30Mbps was considered a great broadband speed. In 2015, as Kiwis took streaming to heart, great broadband increased to 100Mbps,” the firm’s network strategy manager Kurt Rodgers says.

“We recognise that it is now time to shift up a gear again to ensure New Zealanders can take real advantage of the connectivity available to them.”

In September, Chorus tripled the speed of its entry-level fibre service from 100 megabits per second to 300Mbps, while holding it at the same price.

Wait, what?

But here’s the ironic bit – or at least the messy industry politics bit.

Chorus has also started to sound-out retail ISPs for their thoughts on a slower, cheaper UFB product.

Specifically, a new monthly fibre plan would offer download speed of just 40Mbps and upload speed of just 10Mbps – or barely faster than VDSL, the fastest form of copper line – for a wholesale price of $39 per month (as long as retailers pledge to see it for no more than $63).

Chorus rationale is clear. It need a product that’s price-competive with the fixed-wireless services offered by Spark and Vodafone – which user the two carriers respective mobile networks rather than Chorus (or other LFC company) fibre to deliver broadband to a home or small business.

Spark and Vodafone have already moved around 220,000 customers from Chorus lines to fixed-wireless.

With the copper switch-off looming, and just under 500,000 households still on the older technology up for grabs, the fibre vs fixed wireless war will only heat up over the next few months.

And it will be fuelled by Spark and Vodafone re-invigorating their 5G rollouts after a pandemic lull (2degrees, which was due to launch its 5G service by the end of the year, earlier this week said it had begun testing in limited areas, but now has no timeline for a commercial launch. The outbreak has complicated its upgrade. The firm is also in overtime on top of overtime in its merger talks with Orcon Group, which began in the first week of October).

Chorus earlier complained to the Commerce Commission about Spark and Vodafone’s fixed-wireless marketing which it alleged was often shunting the fibre option to the margins.

Last month, the regulator sent an open letter to all players in the telecommunications market, telling them to “reduce consumer confusion” within 60 working days with new marketing codes that clearly laid out broadband options.

Spark and Vodafone both said they supported the watchdog’s push.

Chorus will take heart from the ComCom using the release of its latest quarterly broadband report this week to reiterate its warning.

“The Spring Measuring Broadband NZ report comes shortly after the Commission issued marketing guidelines to the industry aimed at reducing the incomplete, confusing or potentially misleading information that is being provided to consumers about alternative technologies as the old copper network is progressively phased out in areas that have fibre,” the ComCom said in a statement.

Chorus closed a $6.76 on Wednesday. The stock is down 16 per cent for the year.

In a research note issued this morning, Jarden upgraded the network operator from underweight to neutral, while keeping its 12-month target of $6.45.

The wealth manager noted that one of the final steps in new, post-copper regulatory regime will occur later this month as the ComCom reveals its final determination on Chours’ maximum allowable annual revenue from fibre.

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