How does the UFB network work?
The New Zealand Government’s Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) policy is to accelerate the rollout of ultra-fast broadband to 75% of Kiwis by the end of 2019, concentrating on providing access to priority broadband users (businesses, schools and health services) by the end of 2015. The Government has invested $1.5bn in the project under a public-private partnership model. Four partners (Chorus and three “Local Fibre Companies”) have been contracted to build the UFB network, providing co-investment to match the Crown.
The Government defines UFB to mean the availability of broadband services at a minimum speed of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and a minimum of 50 Mbps upstream. By comparison, according to Akamai the average internet speed in New Zealand in late 2011 was 4.0 Mbps.
In short, the UFB network is a Fibre To The Premise (FTTP) network building optic fibre in the “last mile” between the cabinet or the exchange and the door of homes, businesses and so forth.The network uses a mixture of Point-to-Point (P2P) and Gigabit Passive Optical Networking (GPON) technology. P2P services (both “unlit” at Layer 1, also known as Dark Fibre, and “lit” at Layer 2) are mostly intended for Corporate and Government customers, with fibre diversity available. GPON services (Layer 2) are mostly for Residential and Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Products range up to 10 Gigabits per second in speed, and the network can be upgraded in future to increase speeds even further.
The design of the UFB network was shaped by customer needs and the requirement to “future proof” the UFB infrastructure for a lifespan in excess of 40 years. Crown Fibre Holdings (CFH), the Crown owned company tasked with managing the initiative, developed a product philosophy to “keep it simple, make it fast and be competitive”. This has guided a number of aspects of the technical design of the UFB.
For example, the UFB architecture features a single Point of Interconnect (POI) per candidate area (the town or city covered). This optimises network speed and means service providers can access a whole town or city from a single location.
In keeping with the “be competitive” rationale, the network was designed to allow for competition in the home rather than for the home. Multiple ports are available on the device where the fibre terminates in the premise, enabling competition by providers of broadband, voice, video, security and other services. Video such as entertainment content can be delivered through a dedicated IP-TV service or Radio Frequency (RF) overlay as well as “Over The Top” (i.e. over the internet).
The architecture allows for two fibres per premise in both the distribution fibre and the service line into the premise. This would support future developments such as a higher proportion of P2P connections, new in-fill housing, as well as GPON “unbundling” (i.e. selling these services at Layer 1) from 2020.
Chorus and the Local Fibre Companies are wholesalers and only provide Layer 1 and 2 fibre access in the “last mile” – they do not deliver services to end users such as homes and businesses. The network is “open access”, meaning it is open to all Retail Service Providers (RSPs) on equal terms. RSPs have a critical role to play in building packages for end users, delivering customer service and adding features and functionality at Layer 3 and above. RSPs can also help bring to market some of the exciting new applications and content which UFB makes possible.
The UFB architecture provides standard UFB (wholesale) products across the nation and across all four partners, keeping things simple. It allows RSPs to purchase additional bandwidth to customise their retail offerings.
Of course economics were also a factor - the architecture had to enable the development of UFB products with prices low enough to compete with the copper ADSL services most New Zealanders use today. The dual network topologies (P2P and GPON) help ensure that services are fast while the costs of the network are kept down.
RSPs can also influence the end-user experience from UFB through their traffic management policies and network configuration. For example, latency, congestion and packet loss can be reduced through use of caching or Content Distribution Networks (CDNs). At present more than 80% of NZ’s traffic is sourced from offshore, so most sessions are dominated by an inherently long transmission path - round trips can exceed 30,000 kms. Delivering an excellent end-user experience on UFB will help RSPs differentiate from their competitors.
With the UFB network now well under construction, CFH is bedding down the four public-private partnerships. Successive deployment plans are being agreed and released to maximise demand. The industry is working to develop IT systems to ensure sound operational and business support services for customers. CFH will maintain oversight of network build and operation, including quality assurance testing, to make sure that the needs of UFB customers, RSPs, Local Fibre Companies and the Government as a shareholder are met. As it manages the UFB in the coming years, CFH aims to stay true to that initial philosophy: “keep it simple, make it fast and be competitive”.