Wireless broadband no match for best copper technology, says report

Results from TrueNet's 40 Spark Wireless Broadband probes, half of which were located in Auckland.
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Results from TrueNet's 40 Spark Wireless Broadband probes, half of which were located in Auckland.

The Telecommunications Users Association and the country's third largest broadband provider, Vocus, have weighed into a row between Chorus and Spark over broadband technology, with Vocus accusing Spark of "telling porkies".

Tensions have flared again over Spark's attempts to encourage broadband customers on to its own wireless network, and off Chorus' copper broadband network which Spark and other resell.

Network company Chorus paid for broadband testing company TrueNet to install Spark Wireless Broadband in 40 homes, half of which were in Auckland, explaining it wanted to see how Chorus' products "stacked up against the competition".

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TrueNet managing director John Butt said its study indicated the performance of Spark Wireless Broadband varied considerably, often by time of day, and was "more comparable" to slower copper broadband connections and "considerably slower" than the fastest type of copper connection, VDSL.

Spark has questioned the study, suggesting it doesn't tally with the feedback it gets from customers.

Spark managing director Simon Moutter says faults are a reason to get customers off copper, while Chorus' Ian Bonnar ...
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Spark managing director Simon Moutter says faults are a reason to get customers off copper, while Chorus' Ian Bonnar says a customer can on average expect a 20-hour network outage every five years.

Taryn Hamilton, manager of Vocus' Slingshot and Orcon brands, said he was not surprised by TrueNet's findings.

"We believe Spark has been overstating the performance of its wireless network and we'd like to see that stop," he said.

"They are trying to drag fixed-line products down. We are seeing copper performance improve year on year."

Hamilton said TrueNet's study showed customers received faster connection speeds on VDSL and ultrafast broadband (UFB). "By continuing to encourage broadband customers onto its own wireless network Spark is confusing the market and misleading customers," he said.

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Spark spokesman Richard Llewellyn said Hamilton's comments were not surprising, given Vocus did not have a wireless broadband product of its own to sell.

"Our customers are telling us they love the ease, simplicity, and reliability of our wireless broadband."

Tens of thousands of Spark customers have switched to wireless broadband since Spark began marketing the 4G-based service as a superior alternative to copper broadband in towns and cities last year.

Spark turned heads in September when it promoted wireless broadband as a preferable alternative to entry-level UFB for customers who didn't need unlimited data.

Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Craig Young said "any service provider is going to have their own slant" and consumers should not always take their word at face value.

TrueNet's study was the first independent study it had seen on the different types of technologies, he said.

"It has its critics [for] the actual methodology but it is the one that is there at the moment."

Chorus spokesman Ian Bonnar said 80 per cent of homes and businesses could get VDSL and it was "frankly peculiar" it wasn't being more actively marketed.

Butt advised city-livers who were dissatisfied with the performance of their copper broadband to consider changing internet provider before going wireless.

"Poor evening performance on copper broadband is very likely to be caused by their internet provider. Changing ISP is probably more important than changing technology," he said.

Llewellyn questioned the independence of TrueNet's report, saying the fact Chorus had paid for the wireless broadband connections tested by TrueNet "inevitably colours the findings".

"For the vast majority of customers on the copper network, the wireless network is providing two-to-five times the average speed and, despite a doubling in the number of customers on wireless broadband in recent months, the average speed is improving."

Spark customers were very happy with the speeds and performance of wireless, he said.

"In our ongoing tracking, wireless broadband consistently ranks higher than both fibre and copper broadband in terms of customer satisfaction about speed, reliability and overall experience of the service."

Butt said Chorus had only paid for the wireless connections used to conduct its study, and not TrueNet's report itself which was independent.

Llewellyn said customers could "absolutely" trust the advice they got from Spark about their best technology options.

 - Stuff

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