I remember the early days of going online with a misty-eyed sense of nostalgia. Using an ageing IBM XT clone and a 2400bps modem, I used to dial into CityNet. It was a free internet service operated by the Wellington City Council.
I could wax lyrical about how wonderful it was. But the reality is that it was slow. It also operated a clunky text based interface that was archaic by today’s standards. Back then there was no Google, no web. Instead I dialled into a Unix shell account and used email, internet relay chat and Gopher. It was so slow that I could watch individual characters appear on my ancient green screen.
How fast? Where?
Things have since changed for the better. Vocus (which owns Orcon, Slingshot, Flip and Callplus) are launching gigabit UFB plans with Orcon. Slingshot is soon to follow.
Vocus is not the first cab off the rank. Retail UFB provider, BigPipe, also upgraded to gigabit once Chorus said they’d take the gigabit service from Dunedin nationwide. BigPipe aside, Vocus have added a particularly pleasing twist to their offering.
First or not, gigabit broadband is fast. You’re talking a theoretical speed of 1,000 megabits per second. It isn’t so much a matter of watching characters appear – blink and you’ll miss the entire site.
The new plans will be available in Hamilton, Tauranga, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch starting this week. They may be gigabit plans by name, but error correction and network overhead means that users will most likely get 700–990Mbps downstream and about 400mbps upstream. Either way it makes my ADSL2+ 12Mbps down and 0.8mbps up look pokey.
Putting things into perspective, it’d take 16 hours, 38 minutes and 28 seconds to download a 400MB file using 56kbps dial up. With my current ADSL2+ connection the same download jumps to just under 6 minutes. With a 1 Gigabit connection, download-time.com reckons it’d take a mere 3 seconds.
So what’s the twist?
The internet market is a competitive place. This hasn't escaped the attention of the people at Orcon, who are aiming their plans at power users seeking low latency and high speeds. This is for gaming and media consumption (latency in their test demo was in single digits).
Orcon are bundling an Xbox One S with selected plans. It’s a smart move. The Xbox One S not only gives users access to Microsoft’s not too inconsiderable pile of downloadable game titles, but it'll play nice with UHD video. Streamed UHD video from Netflix on the Xbox One S over a gigabit connection looked stunning. In short, The Xbox One S goes with gigabit broadband like peanut butter goes with Jelly. It’s likely to be a big drawcard for many users.
Do we need gigabit speeds?
Back in the day my internet needs were not so much slow, they were glacial. That said, I’d connect with a single (antiquated) DOS PC to knock out the odd email, pootle about with Internet chats and that was that.
Nowadays I’m keeping an eye on things using several connected cameras. A connected burglar alarm monitors my home and we stream music, movies and/or TV shows in HD. Add to this a bazillion tonnes of Facebook messages/video clips, Skype, gaming sessions, emails, plus shopping - and the amount of data consumed is astronomical.
I’m not alone according to Taryn Hamilton, Consumer GM at Orcon.
“We already know Kiwi data requirements are changing. The average home now has more than 10 connected devices,” she says. (My home is nearing the 25 device mark.)
“We’re streaming movies and episodes in 4K and are plugged in 24/7,” she says.
Multiply this across a typical family. The kids are all watching different video streams; they're gaming or Skyping. Mum and dad are getting a dose of vitamin Netflix. The demand for bandwidth is soaring.
Yeah but how much?
Plans start at $135 for naked gigabit UFB via UFF, Enable, Northpower through to $140 with a home phone via Chorus. The plans have a 2-year term and an unlimited data allowance (which makes a hell of a lot of sense given how much data it is possible to get through on a gigabit connection). Oh and there’s also the Xbox One S. It’s a sweet deal if you don’t mind a 24-month commitment.
Orcon's plans are a tad more costly than similar offerings from competitors BigPipe ($129 per month). BigPipe's plans are also unlimited and don’t have a term commitment. That said, they're not bundling an Xbox One S like Orcon is.
Are the plans value for money?
The answer depends on how you use your broadband and how much you want an Xbox One S.
If you’re finding that your connection is sputtering as the entire family does their online thing - and while your home's connected widgets hog what little bandwidth remains - a gigabit plan might be what the doctor ordered.
For watching UHD video via Netflix and gaming with as little lag as possible, Gigabit makes a tonne of sense – especially with an Xbox One S thrown into the mix.