Chorus’s Gerard Linstrom Gives Comprehensive Presentation to May Meeting

At the May meeting, our guest speaker was Gerard Linstrom, the Stakeholder Communications Manager of Chorus, who gave us a very comprehensive view of the amazing and innovative job they have done and are still doing all across NZ – and leading the world while doing so! You can download the PDF of his presentation here. Below are some of the highlights I noted to supplement the slides:

The idea of a complete fibre roll-out all the way to private homes started off as an “election bribe” from Labour, two elections ago but John Key also saw its advantages and adopted it. Only two other countries – South Korea and Singapore – have such comprehensive networks and they had the advantage of being able to employ rather draconian measures to install them.

Telecom was vertically integrated, so they had to split off an infrastructure-focused company to bid for the contract. Telecom had already been building fibre links between the main centres and to every telephone exchange in the country, so they already had plenty of experience. The assets of the network were transferred to a new company called “Chorus” – and this was the fastest corporate divestment in the history of the world! The remaining Telecom parent was later renamed “Spark”.

Chorus’s main job from that point was getting fibre from the exchanges to every house. The Government loaned them the first tranche of money in return for shares in Chorus. The copper network was already 50+ years old and, even in pristine condition, declines in performance with distance. Electricity was the first utility to be universally rolled out but it occupied the best part of a century. By contrast, the Fibre rollout will span a mere 10 years!

Chorus needed to have “drop-off points” ready, even if any given house or neighbourhood was not. Enter “Ribbonet” – effectively a set of very long, drinking straws. The fibres themselves can later be pushed through these “straws” by tiny rollers when they are needed by the final customers. For longer distances, compressed air is used. The fibres are made from ultra-pure glass. If you had a 1400 meter thick window made of that quality glass, you would still be able to see through it!! Being glass, it can carry the whole spectrum of visible light. Thus, using laser technology, the light can be divided into 1024 different sub-wavelengths each of red, orange, yellow, green blue, indigo and violet!

To get the fibre down the streets, Chorus mostly use a horizontal drilling machine on the berms but, in difficult, tree-lined cases like Franklin Road, they use a “HydroVac”, effectively a big waterbaster wand, to create a small tunnel – and have arborists in attendance while they do so!

By now, 75% of the job is done. Uptake of fibre is typically about 50% in many places. New housing developments have been routinely having fibre pre-laid for years now.

Since the advent of online video from the likes of Netflix and Lightbox, there has been a sharp increase in the amount of data downloaded. If you look round the back of your Optical Network Terminal (ONT), you’ll firstly see that it has two phone jacks, so it can more than cope with any continuing land-line requirements.

Your ONT also has 4 ethernet sockets yet only one is probably being used at the moment. One of the three spare sockets could, in the near future, be dedicated to the feed from the likes of Sky TV (instead of their existing satellite or UHF aerial connections), which would enable an almost unlimited number of TV channels to be supplied to their set-top box.

But the extra capacity of fibre can be used to supply many more features, such as online medical monitoring and assessment, more sophisticated security and many more applications yet to be rolled out and, again, these can typically make use of one of those 3 extra slots on your ONT.

Question time brought a fresh batch of concerns which Gerard also fully addressed. Several were about the apparent slowness of the internet, despite already having fibre. That is probably due to your WiFi router no longer being able to supply all the bandwidth to all the devices in your place. WiFi modems have improved fairly rapidly and the latest ones use multiple channels to bridge any dead spots in your place, so they are well worth checking out.

It had been a very complete presentation and, as Chairman Noel Thompson noted, one of the longest yet highly absorbing ones. Thanks, Gerard!

Wayne Power


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