Mike Smith says new technology is emerging that can offer internet speeds close to fibre, without the expense.
Sir John Key’s praise of the ultrafast broadband network he initiated has been tempered by wireless providers who caution other options exist for rural areas blighted by slow internet services.
In a published column, Sir John says he is staggered by what was achieved with the $1.5 billion ultra-fast broadband rollout, citing Australia as an example of what not to do when initiating a national fibre optic network project.
With 87% of the country covered, he has pushed for maintaining the momentum to the tens of thousands still without fibre connectivity.
But Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) chairman Mike Smith said as the number of homes in rural and provincial NZ not connected becomes fewer and fewer, fibre may not prove the best investment to achieve better connectivity for those customers.
The last investment round to lift high-speed broadband was targeting about 84,000 households.
“I felt that Sir John sees fibre as being the only solution for the ones that remain, but the technology is moving at a pace to deliver other options that bring a near-fibre experience,” Smith says.
This includes a range of wireless, radio system networks capable of being installed rapidly and cost effectively to service more remote areas.
“And putting fibre into homes is not the only challenge. You also have the additional challenges of ensuring connectivity within homes and within farms.”
As the number of homes and farms needing faster broadband reduces, Smith says there is a case for “picking the right horse for the right race” when choosing from the expanding range of technology becoming available.
“Short distance wireless at faster speeds for example may be a good approach.”
Similarly, WISPA has been concerned at the focus on 5G technology being rolled out, detracting from other lower establishment cost options.
“But the big challenge for wireless providers this year is to see how much of the next round of spectrum will be offered to us, versus the large carriers’ 5G network. Spectrum is increasingly scarce and no doubt a pretty penny will have to be paid for it.”
He is hoping providers will have some indication of how much they will be allocated by the end of the first quarter.
Meantime, along with TUANZ, WISPA is continuing to push for a comprehensive 10-year plan for NZ’s broadband connectivity to ensure the momentum of the programme initiated by Sir John continues, particularly as technology installed under the first Rural Broadband Initiative demands upgrading in the next two-to-five years.