On January 26, the government said 150 more areas will get Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB). This second phase of the UFB – called UFB2 – means 85 percent of New Zealanders will have fibre access by the end of 2024

Since the government announced UFB in 2011, it has transformed the way we communicate. Unlike the limitations of broadband over copper lines, fibre transmits data over longer distances. It also has faster speeds, at least 100 Mbps downstream, 50 Mbps upstream.

UFB is being rolled-out, managed and funded through a public-private partnership between Crown Fibre Holdings (CFH – the government’s representative) and four local fibre companies. CFH has teamed with these companies to roll-out UFB2. 

In the first phase, Northpower is deploying fibre in Whangarei. Ultrafast Fibre covers several towns across the central North Island. Enable Networks is building fibre in areas of Christchurch. Chorus has the rest. Fibre will reach 75 percent of the country by the end of 2019. 

An extra $370 - $410 million dollars from CFH means UFB2 will extend that reach by 10 percent. For Chorus this means delivering fibre to an additional 168,000 premises across the country.

Whether for business or personal use, education or entertainment, fibre means New Zealand telecommunications has kept pace with (if not out-run) the rest of the world. 

UFB changes the way we educate young people with better access to online resources. In the health sector, fibre has improved access for primary providers. It also supports a uniform approach to sharing information for consistency and improved patient care.

Fibre has boosted commercial opportunities by allowing businesses to reach further. Productivity, innovation and revenue generation are all greater thanks to this increased connectivity. And from a private perspective, fibre makes it easier, faster and more efficient to keep in contact with family and friends. 

Fibre uptake has surpassed all expectations — 30 percent by December 2016. This exceeds predictions for 2020, let alone three years before. 

The programme is a success from all perspectives — political, economic and social. It is easy to understand why the government wants to give more New Zealanders fibre access. Now the number one question is, ‘When am I getting fibre?’

When UFB2 completes 423,000 more Kiwis will have access to broadband nationwide. It will range from Northland to Wellington, Marlborough to Bluff. But not all of these areas will have the same availability levels. People living in Northland or the West Coast may feel short-changed when looking at forecast coverage in their areas. approximately 53.5 percent compared with 94 percent in Auckland or 95.4 percent in the capital. 

Need, demand, costs and population density all go to decide who gets fibre. This doesn’t only apply to telco services though. Electricity, water, postal and waste systems all vary their supply based on the same factors. The more people accommodated by a single connection or service in one go, the more affordable to the provider and consumer. For all these reasons, fibre availability is uneven.

Does this mean that people not already in the UFB queue are at the mercy of the spinning wheel and destined for a life without Netflix? No. Almost 80 percent of addresses can get VDSL - Very-high-bit-rate Digital Subscriber Line. 

VDSL is the fastest broadband available over copper lines at download speeds of 20 – 70 Mbps and new technology means it’s improving all the time. A VDSL connection is strong and reliable enough to ensure rant-free internet browsing. It can deliver smooth Netflix HD streaming. Getting it is often as easy as calling your retail service provider. Often it means receiving a modem in the mail the same week. 

And what about communities who are in UFB2, but must wait four to seven years. Residents in Balclutha, Kapiti, Waimate, to name a few, must wonder, ‘Why is fibre taking so long to reach my community?’ 

The answer again is population density, or the lack of it. This determines UFB need. As with everything, someone must go last. The phrase ‘so close, yet so far away’ comes to mind here. VDSL is the most effective and simplest stop gap to make sure you aren’t missing out. Look at it as the training wheels (though not the rickety sort) before you’re let loose on the digital terrain.