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Keeping West Coast towns connected

Telecom and Westpower join forces to keep West Coast towns connected

A major operation in some of New Zealand’s most rugged country will help keep the lights on and the phones connected in two West Coast townships, and pave the way for a broadband rollout later this year.

Telecom and electricity lines company Westpower are teaming up to improve telecommunications and electrical supply capacity between Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier in a $1.5 million operation, commencing in late May.

Telecom, working with Westpower subsidiary ElectroNet Services, will install fibre-optic cables on Westpower’s power line network, which will be upgraded at the same time to carry 33,000 volts rather than 11,000 volts.

The fibre-optic cables could not be put underground because of the areas unstable terrain and high rainfall. Much of the work will be carried out in the remote Westland National Park, using a helicopter to transport and lay the cable.

The fibre-optic cable will connect Fox Glacier to a telephone exchange Telecom is installing at Franz Joseph. The exchange replaces two existing multi-access radio systems that service communications needs in the area. The radio systems will be redeployed to relieve congestion in South Westland

Telecom Regional Deployment Planning Manager South Colin McCoy says the operation will greatly improve the capacity and reliability of telephone services in the two towns.

“The multi-access radio system could only connect about 30 simultaneous calls in each town at once, sometimes resulting in congestion.

“The new exchange will carry 120 simultaneous callers and provide a more reliable standard of service.”

Telecom is spending $1 million on the operation, Mr McCoy says.

“We’re taking the telecommunications needs of our West Coast customers very seriously. We expect that about 500 households and businesses will benefit from the new system, so this is a significant investment for each customer.”

The new telephone exchange will also pave the way for Telecom to bring broadband to Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier, which is scheduled to occur in July, he said.

Westpower Asset Manager Rodger Griffiths says increasing the electrical capacity of the line and installing a new substation in Fox Glacier will improve electricity supply quality to the town, ensure better voltage regulation, and accommodate regional growth.

“We’re not doing this to fix problems we have now. We’re doing it to fix problems we will have in the future as the region develops.”

Mr McCoy says working in tandem with Westpower was a bonus.

“We wanted to improve the level of telephone service to Fox Glacier and Westpower are really helping us out.

“This way we can kill two birds with one stone.”

Mr Griffiths says the timing was perfect, with both companies planning infrastructural investment in the region at the same time.

“It’s a win-win situation.”

ElectroNet Operations Manager Kent Martin says it had worked with Telecom to install fibre-optic cable in a previous South Westland upgrade.

“The scale of this project is our largest joint venture to date.

“We are pleased that Telecom has looked to a locally-owned company to support them with this operation.”

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