Broadband Basics

What is fibre and why does it matter?

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March 04, 2015

Fibre is the next generation of communications network at the heart of all modern communications networks. Fibre sends signals down a very thin strand of glass via light waves – and it is this light transmission that allows for much higher data rates than traditional copper communication networks.

Fibre supports:

  • Ultra-fast broadband today 20x the average speed of today’s fixed networks. In a few years it will be 100x faster, and can theoretically stretch to speeds 1000x greater.
  • Interactivity: fibre lets you download and upload at the same speed. It means better Skyping, or uploading your movies and photos to facebook.
  • Consistency: it delivers the same experience, regardless of distance or location.
  • Durability: has a much lower faults rate than other networks

These qualities mean fibre has long been the technology of choice to haul internet traffic between business sites, cell sites, cities and nations. But cost prohibited it from going further. New Zealand is unusual in committing to a nationwide project to extend fibre into homes and businesses.

It is not the only communications network – New Zealand also has conventional copper wire, coaxial cable, a new generation of mobile, satellite and fixed wireless services. All have their place; all have specific strengths and technology issues. But fibre is future proof, providing a broadband platform that will meet our needs far into the future.

To help understand these dynamics, we have created the beginner’s guide to telecommunication networks.

Click here to find out what broadband options are available in your area.

Is fibre more than we need today?

A common question is are we building ahead of demand? Don’t we have enough capability and networks to meet our needs today?

We would ‘no’ because our broadband demands are expanding exponentially year by year.

  • We are buying and connecting a LOT more devices in the home – 68% of kiwi homes have smartphones; 39% have tablets such as iPads. Plus desktop computers, electronic books, xbox machines, laptops – the list goes on.
  • We are using more high definition video on those devices – that requires a network equipped for massive data traffic that is growing at 40% to 50% each year.
  • We are living more of our lives online – kiwis are amongst the highest users of facebook and social networking anywhere in the world. It is where we socialise, research, inform and buy.
  • We run home businesses or work from home – that means having back up and file sharing.

This is increasingly testing the limits of today’s traditional networks – and will increasingly test the limits of our patience at peak times or is throttled once we exceed a data cap.

How is fibre being rolled out

The UFB project involves the deployment of thousands of kilometres of glass cables, called fibre optics, to more than 1million homes and businesses around New Zealand. These fibre cables enable super-fast connectivity by transmitting data as pulses of light down incredibly clear strands of glass. This is a step change in technology from the previous copper wires that carried data as electrical current and enables speeds an order of magnitude greater than what is capable on copper.


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