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New network connects Chatham Islanders to world

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Chatham Island residents have been able to use their mobile phones at home for the first time, as the new Rural Connectivity Group (RCG) network was launched today.

Built as part of the Government's Rural Broadband Initiative Phase 2 and funded by the Provincial Growth Fund, the RCG network enables 4G wireless broadband services, mobile voice, data, text services to be provided by Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees, as well as any wholesale partners of those companies. The new RCG network also enables 111 Emergency calling to be available on the island for the first time, working alongside the bespoke local emergency numbers.

The new network has been eagerly awaited by locals and Mayor Monique Croon took the opportunity to phone the Minister, Hon Dr David Clark on her mobile phone, to thank the government for seeing the project through to completion. "We are so excited to have the new network switched on with fast broadband and mobile services available for residents and visitors to Chatham Island. Being able to keep track of our tourist operations and keeping people safe as they travel the island is going to be a huge advantage, saving time, resource, improving efficiency and ultimately enhancing the visitor experience. Our whole health and safety approach on the island will be enhanced because of the new network, and now 111 Emergency calls can be made from mobiles as well as landlines which will improve our response times for incidents" says the mayor.

RCG has built a new satellite link, satellite dish and five mobile masts around the main island. The backbone of the new RCG network is the 7.5 metre satellite dish, positioned on Target Hill overlooking Waitangi and Te Whanga Lagoon, providing eight times the capacity of the current satellite link serving the island. This critical link via the Eutelsat 172B satellite over 35,500kms above the earth, links to another dish 35,500 kms below at Gateway Teleport Ltd in Wellington, which then puts the Chatham Islands traffic into the national telecommunications network.

The build of the satellite link has been an international affair with Eutelsat engineers from South Africa, France, and New Zealand assisting with the link development alongside Xiplink who have provided the acceleration technology to ensure there is limited lag in any data or voice calling to and from the island. Downer NZ Ltd built the satellite dish and five mobile cell sites positioned to maximise coverage to the areas of Waitangi, Pukekio Hill coastline, Henga and the airport, Owenga and Pitt Island. The five RCG masts are linked by digital microwave radio (DMR) which all connect back to the mast on Target Hill, which is directly linked to the satellite dish. This internal DMR linking was built by UBB- Ultimate Broadband, a Wireless Internet Service Provider based in Canterbury.

The steel poles were designed and manufactured by CSP Pacific taking into account the wind-swept environment and salt laden air found in the Chathams. To ensure a robust network the five cell sites are linked with diverse paths, so any fault on a particular site can be isolated whilst allowing the other sites to continue to operate.

"Collaboration is in the DNA of the RCG and our work with Crown Infrastructure Partners and all of our supply partners has meant this project ran smoothly with good planning, good execution and a fantastic outcome. We have enjoyed full support from locals and know this new network will have a huge impact on their daily lives. We are honoured to now be part of the island’s history by helping to deliver this important strategic goal" says John Proctor, CEO of RCG.

The new RCG sites are the result of an industry leading collaboration between the three mobile network operators and Crown Infrastructure Partners that has already seen over 275 cell sites built across rural New Zealand delivering essential broadband and mobile services. The RCG is a joint venture between Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees, and has been contracted by CIP to deliver the government’s Rural Broadband Initiative Phase 2 (RBI2) and Mobile Black Spots Fund (MBSF) programmes. The RCG is responsible for building, operating, and maintaining this essential rural network infrastructure. The RCG cell sites are running the latest 4G technology and services will be available to customers of Spark, Vodafone, 2degrees and their wholesale resellers. Customers may need to upgrade their mobile phones to enable 4G voice calling. Information is available on the websites for each company and anyone unsure if their device can receive and make calls over the 4G network should contact their service provider.

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