Chorus is now offering some of the world’s fastest internet to around three million Kiwis.
Following a pilot, the network operator’s “Hyperfibre” service is now available to anyone living in a Chorus Ultrafast Broadband (UFB) 1 fibre area (there’s a coverage map here).
Hyperfibre has insane amounts of bandwidth – and if you’ve got any even vaguely geeky bone in your body, you’ll be itching to get it.
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But there are two major barriers.
One, Chorus might now be offering Hyperfibre at a wholesale level, but the retailers are wary.
Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees – who collectively account for around 70 per cent of the fixed-line market – all told the Herald overnight that they have no immediate plans to offer the super-fast service.
“We don’t currently offer Hyperfibre-based plans but continue to monitor the market and assess the needs of our customers,” a Spark spokeswoman said.
A Vodafone spokeswoman said, “We have no Hyperfibre plans on the roadmap at this stage as the large majority of our customers are happy with the 100Mbps to 1GBps plans we currently offer.”
Vocus – which holds around 13 per cent of the market via its Orcon and Slingshot brands- is offering Hyperfibre everywhere that it is available.
It’s easy to see why most Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees customers won’t be champing at the bit for Hyperfibre.
Most people (67 per cent) on UFB fibre have a 100 megabit per second (100Mbit/s) plan – offering roughly 10 times the speed of an internet connection over an old copper line.
A significant minority (15 per cent) have a 1000Mbit/s or 1 gigabit/s (colloquially “1 gig”) connection – which seemed ridiculously fast when it was first introduced a couple of years back.
If you’re on a 1-gig plan, you can have every member of your family watching 4K Netflix in a different room, while downloading the latest version of Fortnite and Zoom calling at the same time, and still not get anywhere close to touching the sides.
Almost any household on a 1-gig plan would be just as happy on the next tier down (200Mbit/s), but a stonking 145,785 broadband customers were on 1-gig plans as of the June 30. The structure of Chorus’ pricing helps, but it’s also a measure of the number who just want the fastest internet going and broadband bragging rights over their neighbours (full disclosure, I’m one of them).
But Hyperfibre takes things up several gears again, with 2-gig plans (which cost from $149 per month from a retailer) and 4-gig plans (which start from $179).
Who needs 2000Mbit/s or 4000Mbit/s of bandwidth? One day, those speeds will seem quaint (just as once we wondered how there could ever be software that required 4MB of RAM rather than a massive 2MB), but right now it’s hard to make the case.
The two markets are got-to-have-it-now power-geeks and super-bandwidth-hungry businesses – for a media showcase, Chorus found a video production and creative agency, Augusto that needs to transfer terabytes of video on a regular basis, which made Hyperfibre’s full-speed uploads a boon (1-gig plans can “only” upload at 300 to 500Mbit/s). With Hyperfibre, a file that used to take 12 hours to transfer zapped through in 18 minutes.
Then there’s the factor that any internet connection is only as strong as its weakest link. If a video streaming service serves up video at a bitrate of “only 10 megabits per second” than all the rest of the grunt on your home connection goes begging. There are only a few, rare and unusual instances where a service would support anything close to 1 gig.
And this brings us to our second barrier. A Hyperfibre connection would overwhelm the hardware you got with your original UFB connection. You’ll need a new ONT (the box Chorus installed where fibre comes into your home), at least Cat 6 or Cat 7 ethernet cabling (if your home is already cabled, it would well be with the older, slower Cat 5 which has dominated the past couple of decades) and a PC or laptop with a 10GE Lan port – usually only found on top-of-the-line models.
And as Herald tech columnist Juha Saarinen warns in “Too hot to handle?”, having such a corporate-level deluge of data coming into your home or small business can require corporate levels of firewall security.
To be fair to Vocus, it’s not trying to market Hyperfibre to the average bear. Its consumer and business CEO Tayrn Hamilton cheerfully concedes that the amount of bandwidth it provides is “nuts”.
“It’s ludicrous, really,” he told the Herald as Orcon became the first to offer Hyperfibre as the pilot rollout kicked off in January.
Hamilton says in terms of home users, some geeks just want the best broadband going – a phenomenon that’s born out by the popularity of 1-gig plans.
“When we move into an 8K world, the new technology will come into its own,” he says. 8K streaming and broadcast TV will require four times the bandwidth of the 4K offered by Netflix and a handful of others today, though is still a few years away from the mainstream.
It also doesn’t hurt Orcon’s “challenger” brand to be the only one of the top-tier ISPs to offer Hyperfibre.
What's in it for Chorus?
And what’s in it for Chorus, with its monopoly on 80 per cent of fibre?
Why both to push the needle to 2-gig and 4-gig plans, with 8 gig on the horizon?
The landline network operator is in an arms race with Spark and Vodafone (and, from next year, 2degrees, who are in the process of upgrading their mobile networks to 5G – and will soon be offering fixed-line 5G as a landline substitute for homes and business, in a bid to build on their success moving around 200,000 punters to 4G fixed-wireless, cutting Chorus, and its clip of the ticket, out of the loop.
Chorus can brag that a 1-gig connection is at least twice as possible as the fastest 5G experience, while 2- and 4-gig lines leave 5G in the dust.
But we’re still a few years away from pure 5G, which will offer speeds of up to 10 gig.
Expect a lot of healthy competition in the years ahead between fibre and 5G. Consumers will be the winners, and our broadband will continue to be some of the best in the world.
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