Internet explainer: connecting Aotearoa via different network access types

By Sharina Nisha, Head of Platforms, Vodafone NZ

Most of the time our customers tell us they just want access to good quality, reliable internet - so our constant focus is on delivering a great network experience. But sometimes people want to know more about how we deliver the internet.

There are two main ways that connectivity is delivered - either via a fixed network or wireless (mobile) - however satellite connections are also used by Kiwis in more remote areas.

It's also important to note that factors inside your home can affect your broadband performance, and the NZ Telecommunications Forum provides lots of information about this on their website.

Fixed broadband connections - internet delivered via a cable

By “fixed broadband” we mean internet that travels at speed along fixed underground or hidden cables. There are three main fixed internet access types in this category - fibre, HFC and copper (ADSL/VDSL).

Fibre-to-the-home and HFC are both modern internet access types, and offer households and businesses high-speed data transfer, so where possible we suggest customers upgrade to one of these access types if they are currently using New Zealand’s aging copper infrastructure.

Fibre-to-the-home (or building)

Fibre broadband uses fibre optics and light to deliver data much faster than standard copper lines.

The Ultra-Fast Broadband initiative is a New Zealand Government program of building fibre-to-the-home networks, aiming to reach 87% of the population by the end of 2022, delivered by local fibre companies (LFCs) - Chorus, Northpower Fibre, Ultrafast Fibre and Enable Networks - who sell wholesale connections to retailers like Vodafone to provide to customers.

Vodafone also has its own network of fibre cables in New Zealand as well as international undersea cables connecting Aotearoa to the rest of the world.

Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC)

Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) is a broadband network that largely uses optical fibre in the Core and Access networks all the way to the node on the street, and coaxial cable from the node to the customer’s home. Vodafone's UltraFast HFC uses world-leading DOCSIS 3.1 technology for high speed data transfer - in Wellington, Kapiti and Christchurch.

Just like fibre, HFC offers Kiwi consumers with a great high-speed broadband option, connecting homes and offices to the internet.

Copper (ADSL/VDSL)

While New Zealand’s copper infrastructure is aging, some houses and businesses still use copper (ADSL or VDSL) technology.

Copper cabling isn’t as fast as fibre-to-the-home or HFC, so we often encourage customers onto a newer fixed network - or suggest wireless broadband (more below) as a modern alternative to copper. Both ADSL and VDSL can be bundled with a home phone or used on its own (called ‘Naked’).

  • ADSL Broadband

ADSL stands for “Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line”. The asymmetric part of the definition means that download speeds and upload speeds are not the same - and download speeds are much faster than upload speeds.

ADSL uses the Chorus legacy copper network (previously Telecom) and is good for basic activities - like web browsing, email and online banking - as ADSL is slower than VDSL, fibre-to-the-home and HFC broadband.

  • VDSL Broadband

VDSL stands for “Very high bit rate Digital Subscriber Line” and is a mix of fibre and copper. VDSL uses the fibre network to deliver broadband to a cabinet near a home or business, and then uses the copper network to deliver the internet from the cabinet into a premise.

VDSL is three times faster than standard broadband (ADSL) and has better upload speeds, so enables some streaming of HD TV, video calling and uploading files.

Wireless broadband connections - broadband delivered via a mobile signal

There are two main types of wireless broadband delivered via a mobile signal from a cell tower/site, urban or rural wireless broadband, and both are often referred to as “fixed wireless access” (FWA) in telco-speak.

A mobile network uses cell sites equipped with 2G, 3G, 4G and/or 5G technology to deliver a moveable internet connection to your smartphone. It can also deliver fixed wireless connection to a modem in your home, small business or building.

Urban wireless broadband:

In the city, there are lots more mobile cell sites, houses and businesses are closer together, and wireless broadband is a quick and easy way to get internet connections. This means wireless broadband is often attractive for people who don’t want to get cabling laid to access the internet. [HAVN1]

With 5G, wireless broadband gets much quicker and customers can expect to get fibre-like speeds via a 5G modem.

Rural wireless broadband:

In rural areas, we use long-range radio spectrum that can travel up to 35kms to connect homes in the area, mostly via 4G. Usually this has more than enough capacity to service country communities, but at peak times, some of these sites with high number of users may become congested.

The Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) is a joint venture between mobile operators to build cell sites in rural areas or locations where it would be uneconomical for each provider to build its own towers - and is a great example of where sensible infrastructure sharing makes sense.

Here is more information about what it takes to build a mobile cell site.

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