Increased cellphone coverage welcomed

DELWYN DICKEY
Last updated 05:00 28/11/2013
Coastguard

BOAT SAFETY: Patchy cellphone coverage puts boaties at risk in an emergency.

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Staying connected will be much easier this summer for tourists and holiday makers at some of Auckland's top summer destinations.

And residents will also be winners.

Free Telecom wi-fi sites will be up and running across the north from various sites at Waipu, Waipu Cove, Kaiwaka, Leigh, Omaha, Snells Beach, Warkworth, Waiwera, Orewa, Red Beach, Silverdale, Albany, Riverhead, Kumeu, Helensville and Parakai.

On top of this Vodafone has just upgraded its Warkworth and Matakana sites as part of a commercial 4G network which will extend to Omaha and Leigh by Christmas.

While 4G in the north does not provide new coverage, the technology is up to 10 times faster than standard 3G services. So that makes things like streaming videos and web browsing faster, Vodafone communications adviser Brad Pogson says.

This is part of the Government's five-year Rural Broadband Initiative rollout, with Vodafone upgrading 387 existing cell towers and building 154 new towers in rural areas throughout New Zealand.

Patchy cellphone coverage and slow broadband speeds are the bane of rural life for many in Rodney.

Coverage in the north is particularly erratic with broad swathes of rural countryside lacking any.

Most of South Head north of Shelly Beach has no coverage. Rural areas surrounding the Kaipara Harbour all the way to Dargaville and down to Poutu go without, as does west of Orewa to north past Mangawhai, including Ahuroa, Tapora, Wellsford and Tomarata.

Twenty-one Vodafone cell sites in the Rodney district have already been upgraded under the initiative. Upgrades are planned for sites at Kraacks Hill, Kaipara Harbour, Te Hana, Omaha and Leigh.

New towers will be installed at Ahuroa and Kumeu North in the next year.

The expansion of coverage and speeds will be welcomed by many.

Lack of coverage impacts rural businesses' ability to communicate effectively, but it also exposes rural workers to dangers urban counterparts don't have to contend with.

Farming and forestry have the highest accident and death rates of any occupations, beaten only by fishing, another area where better coverage would be appreciated.

The Accident Compensation Corporation says rates are more than double the national average, with 15 deaths last year in the agriculture, forestry and fishing the highest of any sector.

Farmers often out on their own are particularly vulnerable.

Fishers at Leigh use ship-to-shore radio but welcome better cellphone coverage on the water.

There are also blind spots with radio coverage out in the Hauraki Gulf and cellphone backup would be very useful for safety.

The radio is also open communication with 10 to 15 boats in range to hear calls, fisherman Dave McIntosh says.

That's great in an emergency, but there is no privacy for commercially sensitive or private calls, he says.

Recreational boaties are meant to have two forms of communication for emergencies out on the water that will work when wet. Many people will use their cellphones in a zip lock plastic bag but coverage can be very patchy, a Maritime New Zealand spokesman says.

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Some areas around Wellsford, Tomarata, Pakiri, Leigh and off shore will get coverage in the next year.

By the end of the two-year rollout all the Kaipara Harbour up to Dargaville, most of Tapora through to Wellsford up to Mangawhai and Waipu will be included.

Parts of South Head Peninsula, more of State Highway 16, Ahuroa to Dome Valley, around the Whangateau Harbour, Takatu Peninsula, and Tawharanui will be covered.

Much of the gulf will have coverage but Kawau Island largely misses out.

Vodafone advises the 4G coverage is their own initiative and not part of the governments Rural Broadband Initiative.

- Rodney Times

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