Vodafone NZ has announced it will fast-track its regional investment programme following greater need for connectivity as a result of COVID-19 and digital acceleration.
Manawatu and Bay of Plenty-Waiariki will be the first regions to benefit from a turbocharged digital infrastructure investment programme being kicked off by Vodafone New Zealand to further improve mobile phone and internet coverage around Aotearoa.
The accelerated network investment programme for 2021 will see Vodafone upgrade or build more than 250 mobile cell sites around Aotearoa, and bring Vodafone 5G to more cities with Tauranga and Palmerston North next to receive the latest generation mobile technology.
According to the telco, hundreds of millions of dollars will be pumped into the New Zealand economy as a result, necessary because data use increased by 56% during 2020 as more Kiwis relied on mobile technology and digital services to work, live and play remotely.
Tony Baird, wholesale - infrastructure director at Vodafone, says Vodafone is "turbocharging" its investments so that customers have access to "remarkable network technology".
"Each year we invest hundreds of millions of dollars into our digital infrastructure, but we are really ramping it up this year and beyond," he says.
"COVID-19 has accelerated the use of digital services and data consumption, particularly in regional parts of the country, and we want to invest ahead of the curve for our customers.
"This means expanding our phone and internet connectivity over the coming few years, from Northland to Southland," Baird says.
"We want to offer 5G to more New Zealanders as well as expand and strengthen our 4G coverage footprint both geographically as well as within buildings where mobile signals can sometimes be weaker," he says.
"These investments will be great for our fixed wireless access products, meaning Kiwis can access fast and easy broadband internet connections via our mobile network without the need to wait for specialist technicians or lay fibre cabling."
Baird says Vodafone wants to "further strengthen regional free-range working options, plus offer greater Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities to turbocharge regional economies, and help foster greater digital inclusion by enabling community benefits such as improved health, education and social outcomes".
As part of the planning stage, Baird says that Vodafone considered physical infrastructure plus social and cultural outcomes, recognising the need to respond to recent rapid growth in regional towns and to contribute to digital inclusion.
This includes using the Vodafone NZ Foundations soon-to-be-launched Thriving Rangitahi Population Explorer, a tool that draws on government data to better understand the needs of young people and highlight areas of the country that would benefit from additional digital infrastructure.
"The Vodafone NZ Foundation has a big goal to halve the number of disadvantaged youth in Aotearoa, and well do this both by donating to awesome community organisations but also by integrating a win-win philosophy into how we approach our core business planning," Baird says.
"We're building for the long-term so we think it's important to accelerate investment into our network, despite being in the middle of a very challenging business environment.
"Telco industry economics are even more challenging, and New Zealanders continue to get more bang for their buck by consuming more data each year but paying the same or less for their mobile and broadband plans - so well keep exploring how we can achieve greater business efficiencies while delivering value to our customers," he says.
Nokia will be supplying the radio equipment for the regional investment program, continuing the long-standing relationship between the two companies.
Tommi Uitto, president, Mobile Networks at Nokia, says, "We are delighted to extend our strategic relationship with Vodafone New Zealand, as we embark together on building New Zealand's largest and best-performing 5G network.
"This is an important win for Nokia, and a vote of confidence in our technology by an established player with a leadership position to defend," he says.
When Vodafone launched 5G mobile on 10 December 2019 in parts of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown, it meant Aotearoa was the 22nd country globally to launch a 5G mobile network - meaning that New Zealand innovators and businesses could tap into the faster speeds and lower latency of the latest generation mobile network just months after the technology started being rolled out internationally.