Why fibre will look after you during the pandemic and after it

  • 24/04/2020
  • Sponsored by - Chorus
Why fibre will look after you during the pandemic and after it
Photo credit: Chorus

As New Zealand endures the COVID-19 alert level 4 lockdown, Kiwis are relying on the internet now more than ever.

There has been an enormous jump in internet usage as more people are online at home all day as well as at night.

Those who are making use of Chorus’s fast and reliable fibre network most likely haven’t seen their internet slowing down or cutting out.

Fibre is the most reliable broadband connection you can get in Aotearoa – this is because it is a dedicated, congestion free network, which means you get a consistent online experience even at the busiest time of the day. 

Chorus network strategy manager Kurt Rodgers says the fibre network "hasn't missed a beat", even under the strain of the huge surge.

"We've had absolutely no congestion. We've always had more capacity than has been needed over the last few weeks, so there's been no slowdown."

An international phenomenon

The pandemic causing an increase in internet usage has been an international phenomenon with similar trends in multiple countries. In Italy there was a 70 percent surge in fixed line usage but only a 10 percent surge on mobile, according to research

A recent New York Times article shows people are turning away from small screens towards big screens to consume content.

In the US the fixed line surge was 75 percent in just one week, according to Verizon. Meanwhile AT&T reported a decline in mobile data usage, which was greater in the areas most affected by COVID-19.

Chorus says in New Zealand midday traffic has been constantly rising since the lockdown began and has gotten as high as 76 percent above baseline. The reason we're using so much more data is people working from home are often doing so using video conferencing - and people who aren't working at home are streaming videos or talking to friends and Whanau online.

"The sheer volume of people using video meeting software is new. If you have say four or six people in a Zoom meeting, they're all using quite a bit of bandwidth that they normally wouldn't be when they were all in the same office together," says Rodgers.

NZ beating the Aussies

While the fibre network in New Zealand hasn't gotten close to capacity, just across the ditch in Australia, Telstra's CEO has been asking customers to limit their usage as networks struggled.

Why are the Aussies struggling with demand while we Kiwis are not? The answer is simple - a lot more fibre.

"In New Zealand fibre is available to over 80 percent of the population and that's end-to-end fibre all the way," says Rodgers.

"That's really reliable and has lots of capacity. Australia has a variety of different technologies and not all of them are as good as fibre."

Independent research has been conducted for the Commerce Commission comparing different broadband technologies and shows fibre is the fastest and most reliable in New Zealand.

That crucial reliability factor

Obviously, the higher speeds are attractive, but that reliability is also crucial for people making an important video call they don't want to drop out or someone in the middle of Ozark's season finale.

"Wireless technologies which use mobile networks aren't quite as fast and do have some performance issues. They often have high latency, which just means you're more likely to have interruptions," says Rodgers.

Fibre is immune to many of the problems copper or wireless internet connections are prone to because it provides your house with its own private cable. What's inside that cable won't suffer electromagnetic interference because it doesn't use electricity. It uses light.

"It operates at the speed of light, which is the fastest speed we know of in the universe. So there's a bit of a science fiction thing going on there - it's a cable made of glass and we blink a laser down it," says Rodgers.

"Fibre networks work with light travelling backwards and forwards to your house, so they have incredibly low latencies, are incredibly reliable and are incredibly consistent."

Looking ahead

And as fast as fibre is right now, it's getting even faster. The most popular plan in New Zealand is the 100 Mbps plan - so if you have fibre now, there's a good chance you're on that. But the fastest growing plan is the Gigabit plan, which is 10 times faster at 1000 Mbps.

Then there's Hyperfibre, which is rolling out around the country and offers the absolutely insane speed of 4000 Mbps. Although it's impossible to predict the future, this seems like it'll be acceptable for decades to come. It's hard to imagine needing any more speed.

"Copper cables were first rolled out in New Zealand over 100 years ago when they were first used for telegraphs, then they were used for the telephone, then dial-up internet, then broadband," says Rodgers.

"We got about a century worth of capabilities out of those copper cables and I believe fibre is the same - we're just at the start with it. We're likely to grow capacity on this network, it's a multi-generational piece of infrastructure with no sign of any other technology being better any time soon."

This article is created for Chorus.