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The limits of Spark's 600GB fixed wireless promise

Writing at the NZ Herald, Chris Keall reports on Spark increasing the data cap on fixed wireless plans to 600GB.


Spark only offers 600GB in Auckland where there are usually better broadband options. The company isn't so generous out in the sticks where there’s no fibre and wireless is the only game in town.


Rural people who need 600GB wireless data can't buy it.


Keall writes: "Spark has supersized the data cap on its fixed-wireless broadband plan to a stonking 600 gigabytes - removing one of the historic barriers to this fast internet technology, at least for Auckland customers."


Limited offer


Make that some Auckland customers.


Spark's press release talks about eligible customers. It certainly isn't everyone. The deal is not available at my address nor at any of the first five Auckland addresses I typed into Spark's website.


Later in the story Keall writes: "The telco couldn't immediately say which areas of Auckland and how many customers were eligible."


We don't even know if it is most of the city, half the city or one-tenth of the city. Going by my entirely unscientific survey, it's unlikely coverage is at the top end of that list.


Keall goes on to write: "The bandwidth is often good enough for high-def video streaming, though results vary depending on your proximity to the nearest cell site, among other factors."


The key word here is often.


Fast enough?


I've heard from readers who can stream high-definition video on Spark's fixed wireless network. They love it. I've also heard from people who can't stream.


Even Spark was wary of making this kind of promise when it was selling the Spark Sport Rugby World Cup package.


It's unlikely the Keall household will be customers. He says: "In mine, where two parents stream all their TV, one teen spends a lot of time on PlayStation Online and another sets TikTok records, we usually chew threw between 800GB and 1TB (1000GB)."


When I tried fixed wireless broadband I got a decent 40mbps or so, but at that stage I was the only connection on the local tower. A neighbour gets up to 18mbps, but says the speed drops in the evening.


Apart from the data cap, today's fixed wireless doesn't have the bandwidth to cater for this kind of family use. That may change when 5G is available. Yet going on reports from overseas, even 5G will struggle under the Keall-load.


Where available, fixed wireless broadband is the best option for people who are off the fibre map. It makes sense for people who don't use enough bandwidth or data to justify a fibre line. It is a good idea if you are too far from the curb, or down a difficult to deal with right of way.


Fixed wireless broadband can be cheap.


At $65, Spark's bottom of the range fixed wireless plan can cost less than even the cheapest fibre plan so long as you stay below 60GB of data a month.


Given that unlimited fibre plans start at around $70 a month, wireless may not be the best value for money.


You don't need to be psychic to unpick Spark's timing. Vodafone plans to launch its 5G network before Christmas.


One thing to watch is whether Vodafone will attempt to compete head-on with Spark's fixed wireless. On paper its 5G fixed wireless will be faster and data will be more abundant. The key question is price.


Vodafone may choose an aggressive price, but that could undermine any messages about the superiority of 5G.


Either way, you can expect to be bombarded with marketing about the relative merits of the different technologies. Spark's 600GB announcement is the opening salvo.

The limits of Spark's 600GB fixed wireless promise was first posted at billbennett.co.nz.

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