Orcon first onboard as Chorus doubles UFB speed with Hyperfibre

New Zealand already had some of the fastest residential broadband in the world with Chorus’s 4 gigabit per second Hyperfibre plan.

Now Chorus has doubled that with its new 8Gbps Hyperfibre service – with Orcon the first retail internet service provider to offer it.

It’s partly about raw speed thrills for power-geeks, but there’s also some intriguing industry politics at play.

To give a feel for the bandwidth, imagine this: You’re in a hurry leaving for flight, and you want to download a high-resolution movie to your tablet using Netflix’s new download-and-go option.

With a copper line, it would take around half an hour – if you were lucky.

And on a 100 megabit per second connection (the most popular type of UFB fibre plan), it would take 6 minutes. Not bad, but still a bit of a toe-tapper.

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With an 8Gbps Hyperfibre plan, it would take five seconds.

(8Gbps = 8000Mbps, meaning the new “Hyperfibre 8” service is 80 times faster than the cheapest form of UFB connection, a 100Mbps plan)

Chorus says the blisteringly fast service is now accessible to about 150,000 residential and business customers in Auckland and Wellington – specifically, 10 central exchange areas across Auckland and Wellington. In Auckland, Mount Albert, Mt Eden, Ponsonby, Mayoral Drive, Remuera and Browns Bay. In Wellington, Khandallah, Courtenay Place and Kelburn.

Chorus first launched Hyperfibre – a turbocharged version of UFB fibre – nationwide in October last year with 2Gbps and 4Gbps plans.

“Several hundred” speed-thrill seekers have signed on since then, Chorus chief Customer Officer Ed Hyde says.

While Orcon currently has the 8Gbps field to itself, some 20 retail ISPs now offer 2 or 4Gbps Hyperfibre, with Orcon and MyRepublic pushing it the hardest.

There’s undoubted geek cachet in having the fastest broadband connection on the block, and that online services will get become ever larger bandwidth hogs (just as you’re getting used to Netflix 4K, for example, the streaming giant is already shooting some new content in 8K, which has four times the resolution).

But the superfast new services do dome at a price (a 2Gbps Hyperfibre plan costs around $150 per month, a 4Gbps plan $185 and an 8Gbps plan $275). And, as any exchange of data over the internet only as strong as its weakest link, you’ll more often than not be dealing with a link that will be well slower than 2Gbps.

And we have to keep it in perspective just how much our bandwidth options have exploded. Recent Commerce Commission benchmarking report found that a UFB connection of “only” 100Mbps is still enough for a household to stream four ultra-high definition (4K) streams of Netflix at once. (I put “only” in inverted commas because Australia’s regulator’s benchmarking tops out at 100Mbps – a mark of how far ahead NZ currently is in transtasman terms).

So who’s buying?

“Currently Hyperfibre is appealing mainly to small and medium enterprises, in a variety of sectors, from what you’d expect – design studios, gaming companies – through to more traditional businesses like accounting firms,” says Taryn Hamilton, chief executive consumer and business for Vocus NZ (the parent company of Orcon, Slingshot and Flip, which is also pulling the levers behind the scenes for Sky’s new broadband service.

“There is some interest from residential customers as well. Given that 2Gbps Hyperfibre is only $149.95, it’s affordable for a particularly keen household, and really affordable for business.”

The Vocus boss adds, “I remember when some said we’d never sell 1Gbps, and that’s been our most popular plan [for new connections] for some years now. While it may be a couple of years away, it’s a pretty sure bet that Hyperfibre will be our most popular technology at some point.”

The arms race against fixed-wireless

For Chorus, it’s also important to keep ahead in the bandwidth arms race against the fixed-wireless services that have been such fast-growers for Spark and Vodafone (and will be pushed hard by 2degrees, too, after it starts its 5G upgrade later this year).

Fixed-wireless uses a mobile network to deliver broadband to a fixed area, such as a home or small business – effectively offering a landline substitute that’s faster and easier to install than fibre, and cheaper per month.

It offers speeds of up to several hundred megabits per second today (your bandwidth will depend on your proximity to the nearest cell tower, and other factors, that can vary). And as 5G evolves and the millimetre wave spectrum is auctioned by the Government in coming years, the mobile network operators anticipate speeds of 1Gbps – and eventually up to 10Gbps – all the while cutting Chorus out of the loop, physically and financially.

And both Chorus and the mobile telcos have to keep half an eye on Elon Musk’s emerging effort to blanket the Earth in satellites that supply fast, unlimited data internet (Vocus has a finger in that pie, too. It’s setting up six ground stations around New Zealand for Musk’s “Starlink” fleet).

Beyond the ComCom's clutches

Another reason for Chorus’ enthusiasm for 1Gbps plans – and now Hyperfibre: A new telecommunications regime, which will be phased in from January next year, will see the Commerce Commission set the regulate the price of an “anchor” UFB plan, which it has judged to be 100Mbps service (InternetNZ argued that was too low down the food chain, given so people setting up a new connection, or switching ISPs, now go with a 1Gbps – that is, 1000Mbps plan – but to no avail).

But beyond the 100Mbps “anchor plans” Chorus will have a degree of wholesale price freedom (I say “a degree of freedom” because the ComCom will also cap the maximum amount the UFB network operator can earn from fibre each year overall. The amount is yet to be finalised).

So there’s been an incentive for Chorus to offer retail ISPs keen pricing for its 1Gbps and faster plans.

So far – whether the intended consequence or not – it’s meant that individual Kiwi households and small businesses can now tap sort of bandwidth that a few years ago was only available to the largest firms.

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