When you are the country’s largest telecommunications infrastructure player and are tasked with supplying nearly one million homes and businesses and close to 2500 schools with ultra-fast broadband by 2020, sometimes you have to do things a bit differently.
Like rushing fibre across the mouth of an inlet during a short window at low tide to supply a small rural school. Or teaming up with TV production company, Screentime, Vodafone, MyRepublic, and every local tradesman you can persuade to volunteer their services, in an ambitious project to get cellphone coverage and UFB broadband to Matihetihe marae on the rugged Northland west coast, without it costing the rural community a cent.
Oh and why not do it all at the weekend, and throw in WiFi coverage throughout the marae campus, including people camped in the marae grounds.
“Around one million homes and businesses, plus schools and other organisations; that’s a big target, so we have to find the best and fastest way possible,” says Kurt Rodgers, Chorus’ network strategy manager.
“We have a constant focus on innovation to get more efficient and to improve the end customer experience, making everything more plug-n-play.”
Chorus is responsible for delivering fibre to 24 of New Zealand’s biggest cities and towns, planting broadband infrastructure through Auckland’s volcanoes, under Wanaka’s rivers, and around Queenstown’s mountains.
Add getting fibre to every school in the country and some of the most remote marae, and there’s a need for some pretty innovative approaches to some pretty gnarly geographical challenges.
The electronics Chorus is currently using to light the fibre can handle speeds up to one gigabit per second, Rodgers says. But if in the future it needs to be upgraded to meet increased capacities, the electronics can be easily and efficiently removed and replaced.
“We’re building infrastructure for generations to come,” Rodgers says.“This means we need to future-proof it so it can develop as the country’s needs evolve. We also need to ensure everything is accessible so we don’t have to keep digging up the ground.”
Chorus isn’t only innovating in the ways it’s bringing fibre to New Zealanders, it’s enabling those New Zealanders to innovate, to take advantage of the power of truly high-speed, high capacity, affordable and accessible broadband, Rodgers says.
“We don’t want broadband to be a barrier. Our goal as an innovation enabler is for our platform to become invisible.
“In the New Zealand Innovators Awards, so many of the innovations are online – whether it’s big data analytics, or apps, or 3D video, or marketing campaigns, or developing cancer drugs that require huge amounts of data to be exchanged – and these innovators just take it for granted that they’re going to have huge capacity and connection speeds.
“We need to make sure they can keep taking it for granted. The more opportunity everyone has to access high speeds, the more opportunity there is for innovation.”
Not only does Chorus’ fibre enable innovation, it connects New Zealand’s innovators with a global market, giving them limitless opportunity to scale, Rodgers says. “It’s key that we remove the tyranny of distance.
By having an unconstrained, ultra-fast network, we can transact with overseas markets at the speed of light. The future for New Zealand is exporting weightless product, and distance doesn’t matter anymore.”
To see where increased speeds could take us, and to see whether people would actually use those speeds, Chorus ran the Gigatown campaign, a social media and real world competition where towns had to convince Chorus that they should be the market to test the possibilities of gigabit speeds.
Rodgers says Chorus wanted to “stimulate the market and see what people can do with it”.
Dunedin was announced as the winner in November last year, having mobilised locals, businesses and students behind the super-fast fibre campaign. The first gigabit-speed connections have already started going into the city centre, the university and elsewhere.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive, Rodgers says, with entrepreneurs using the increased capacity to form new start-ups, create new products and services, and connect with overseas partners and collaborators faster than is possible anywhere else in the country.
“We always want to keep ahead of the curve. We want New Zealanders to be able to have the best that’s available. New Zealanders need us to do a great job so that they can get on with innovating.” ⋅