Why Fibre is Superior

Our copper network is nearing the end of its life cycle, and with the increasing reliance on our telecommunications for day-to-day business operations, having a ‘future proof’ infrastructure is essential to the economic wellbeing of our regions.

New Zealand’s aging copper network over which our telephone services and broadband currently operate has been around for more than 100 years. Over this time its bandwidth has increased markedly, however, it is becoming a redundant technology. Fibre, on the other hand, is only at the beginning of its life-cycle and it is already delivering bandwidths several hundred times greater than copper. To ensure New Zealand stays competitive globally, we need to ensure our telecommunications infrastructure is on par with our key trading partners around the globe.

To put in perspective the need to invest in improving New Zealand’s telecommunications infrastructure, regular reports by the OECD have ranked NZ for its upload speeds comparable to the rest of the world – and, while it's improving, it's something we’re keen to help improve!

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So what is ‘fibre’?

Very basically, fibre-optic cable consists of strands of optically pure glass as thin as a human hair. A single fibre optic is coated in a layer of cladding and then a buffer coating, and grouped into bundles to create fibre-optic cables.

These very fine optical glass strands are capable of transmitting light signals over very long distances. In fact it might seem hard to believe, but the Southern Cross fibre-optic cable connecting New Zealand to the rest of the world consists of only four fibre optic strands, of which only three are currently in use.

How does fibre work?

Basically it’s like morse code. Many will know that traditional copper networks use binary code (1’s and 0’s) sent as electrical impulses. For fibre, the premise is the same but with light. If the light is on, it's a 1, and when the light goes off it's a 0. Clever gadgets take the information you are sending, and turn it into a supercharged morse code that refract down the fibre-optic cable, to be read and returned to its original format by a clever gadget at the other end. We could go into how fibre sends data by ‘packets’ like your postal service, but that’s getting into the detail.

Why is fibre superior to the existing copper network?

Think of copper like the old ‘tin cans and a piece of string’ phone. The longer the piece of string, the harder it is to get the message down the line.

Copper sends electrical signals which weaken over distance, and travel slower than light signals, which, funnily enough, travel at the speed of light. With glass instead of copper, you also have less chance of interference or degradation, so it's a superior conductor of the 0’s and 1’s (your data) than copper.

Because the glass fibre strands are much thinner than copper wire, more of them can be packed into the same space. Not to mention that it can carry multiple signals concurrently using different coloured lights (similarly to some other modulation technologies). While fibre-optic cables can degrade, they will not corrode like copper-based cabling does. And if you are MI6, you will be pleased to know it is resistant to eves dropping. We could go on (and on and on) about the benefits but that’s probably enough for now.

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Jargon Buster

Fibre

A technology that uses glass threads (fibres) to transmit data. A fibre optic cable consists of a bundle of glass threads, each of which is capable of transmitting messages modulated onto light waves. It operates in much the same was as copper, in that it transmits data using binary code, but instead of using electrical impulses to transmit the 1’s and 0’s, it uses pulses of light.

ADSL

Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line, or ADSL, is a method of transferring data over copper telephone lines. This has been the most common form of phone and internet connection, but due to the aging network, is becoming less reliable and expensive to maintain. ADSL has limited speed and quality, based on distance, and will be phased out over time.

Cloud Computing

The practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data, rather than a local server.

ISP

Internet Service Provider, or ISP, is a retailer of internet services. See RSP.

RSP

Retail Service Provider, or RSP, is a telecommunications or Internet service provider selling retail products (phone, Internet packages, storage, cloud computing solutions etc.) to the market. UnisonFibre provides the fibre network as a ‘wholesaler’ to the RSP, and the RSP bundles phone and internet services and solutions into a range of different packages to suit your needs.

Dark Fibre

Basically this is a fibre optic cable with no Ethernet - so, it is not transmitting light, and is therefore dark. Because of the high costs of building a network (mostly from digging the cable trenches), extra capacity may be installed but not used. This terminology is now also used to describe a fibre service where a company leases just the actual fibre optic network, and not the actual data service.

BITS

A bit is a piece of binary code used to transfer data. Binary code consists of 1’s and 0’s, so one bit is either a ‘1’ or a ‘0’. Using fibre, that bit is expressed by the light being on (1) or off (0).

MBPS

Mega (million) bits per second. A bit is a piece of binary code used to transfer data. It’s either a ‘1’ or a ‘0’, or for fibre, the light is either on or off. This is a measure of speed – how much data can be transferred per second.

VOIP

Voice over Internet Protocol. VoIP is technology or set of standards for delivery of telephone calls and other voice communications over the Internet. It involves the conversion of Analog voice signals to a digital form. This is not Skype however - it uses IP Telephony which is a private IP network, compared to the public internet.

Upload & Download Speed

This is basically how fast data is being moved. An independent study By Epitiro in 2013 found the average ADSL download speed for NZ internet providers was 10.04 Mbps, with an average upload speed of 0.85 Mbps. As a comparison, our ultra fast fibre network offers a download speed of 100Mbps and upload speed of 50Mbps, subject to the backhaul capacity of the customer's Retail Service Provider.

CIR

Committed Information Rate, or CIR, is the minimum upload and download speed of your Ultra-fast broadband package. UnisonFibre guarantees your retailer a minimum CIR, but this may vary on what your retailer offers, so it’s worth asking your retailer what you CIR is for the package you choose.

EIR

Excess Information Rate, or EIR, is the maximum upload and download speed of your ultra-fast broadband package.

Bandwidth

This is the capacity of your connection - how much data it can carry.With increasing demand for capacity, ADSL can struggle to cope with the volume of data being uploaded and downloaded, and so you get ‘network contention’ – basically a traffic jam. Fibre has far greater bandwidth, and so, if a Retail Service Provider has sufficient backhaul capacity, network contention is greatly reduced or eliminated.