Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Brunner explores next new world

The arrival of instant 4G wireless technology has West Coaster Katie Milne convinced it will be a windfall for time-poor farmers.

Vodafone gave Milne, the Federated Farmers board member from Rotomanu, some Vodafone kit to help it test transmission from a new radio mast over-looking Lake Brunner.

The Government’s auction of the fast-speed spectrum in November will make 4G a national breakthrough but for now it is available only in parts of Auckland and in a handful of places around Moana, on Lake Brunner’s north shore.

Vodafone chose Brunner to test the technology because of its challenging combination of water and mountains. Crucially, the West Coast had also been early in ditching analogue television, freeing up spectrum for 4G transmission.

For Milne it’s a top story for rural New Zealand.

“It’s going to be huge because the more apps that are coming out every day- and the more that are focused toward agriculture – the more we’ve got to explore,” Milne said at Vodafone’s 4G demonstration at Lake Brunner School.

Milne can only guess at future applications but as a dairy farmer she’s confident the efficiencies in routine areas like NAIT compliance will be massive.

Milne had fairly good internet before Vodafone asked her to try its handsets so she’s well placed to comment on the power of fast internet.

“My partner has gone from being an absolute technophobe to first thing he does when he gets up – after he puts the jug on – is he goes and checks out something online.”

Milne is also a convert. Instead of driving into town for speculative shopping missions she can work out exactly what is available in advance.

“You can do all your research on the internet first before you go and look at some bits of machinery or whatever, so you’ve cut out hours and hours of listening to someone who is selling you something … who is just giving you one point of view.”

Farmers were also less likely to make rushed purchases when they could control the sale process, be it on Trade Me or by trawling retail websites

“There’s nothing like having it good. You don’t realise how spoiled you are until you go somewhere and it’s rubbish again. It reminds you of how frustrating it used to be.”

At one point Milne had upgraded her mobile but didn’t appreciate how good her phone service had become.

“I’d been wondering why it was so good, thinking ‘god this is awesome’ and of course I’d been on 4G without knowing it. So how cool was that? It was like ‘this is magnificent’.”

Milne understands farmers on dial-up access are also finding life easier as network company Chorus gets to grips with old problems like interference from electric fences.

“I think they’re getting better and better at understanding the issue. Instead of just saying ‘go find the short in your fence’ they do tend to go to the exchange and put in filters a lot more readily now, which is great because it’s not always your fence.”

Perversely, some dial-up customers were also saying their connection is more reliable because so many users had taken up fixed-line broadband or satellite. 

The details

Vodafone’s trial of the 700MHz spectrum on loan from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment runs to the end of July.

On the Brunner site Vodafone customers with a 4G-capable device and the right sort of call plan can access the 1800MHz spectrum it uses in Auckland.

Telecom also has a 4G trial underway and a commercial launch planned in October.

Indications are it will co-locate its gear on Vodafone-built cellphone towers.

Chorus and Vodafone won a contract to build the rural broadband network under the $300m Rural Broadband Initiative. Under that public-private programme, Chorus will lay the new fibre in rural areas while Vodafone will install new cell towers and upgrade others. The contract lasts for six years.

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