RCG 100 Sites Live

Thursday 11 June 2020

RCG liven 100 sites during Covid-19 keeping rural New Zealanders connected.  

On Thursday 11 June 2020 the Honourable Kris Faafoi, Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Minister marked RCG’s 100th site live during a ribbon cutting event in Gebbies Valley, Christchurch.

The 100th site on air under the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI2) and Mobile Black Spot Fund (MBSF) programmes means that a further 8000 households and businesses and over 300km of State Highway previously with poor or no network connectivity, will have access to high-speed wireless broadband and quality mobile coverage, from Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees.

The living of the Gebbies valley sites takes the total number of operational RCG sites in the Canterbury region to eight, in an effort to keep rural New Zealanders connected as they worked and schooled from home during Covid lockdown.

With the livening of these eight sites in Cass, Eyrewell, The Pines Beach, Bealey, Ashburton East, Birdlings Flat, Albury and Gebbies Valley and another three sites planned to go live imminently, a further one thousand Cantabrian homes and businesses and over 55kms of state highway,

“At the time of the lockdown we had a number of sites around New Zealand close to completion which we had to secure and leave. As an Essential Service our team has been focused on getting built sites ‘on air’ to provide immediate service to as many rural communities as possible.” says RCG Chief Executive John Proctor. “Our team has worked in extraordinary circumstances but the importance of new coverage to isolated rural communities cannot be underestimated. Livening sites makes a huge difference to the daily lives of locals and is why it’s more important than ever we’ve worked hard to complete sites during lockdown.”

The challenges presented by a national state of emergency and subsequent levels of lockdown has meant that in addition to the already strict Health & Safety protocols followed by the RCG, controlled and meticulous Covid-19 procedures to access and work on sites needed to be implemented, including ensuring Police permits were obtained for the RCG staff movements.

Mr. Proctor says “These remain unprecedented times. We’re working together with our shareholders, build partners, power companies and landowners with one goal – to build and liven sites and keep everyone safe whilst doing so. I can’t thank everyone enough for their contribution; it’s been a huge team effort and we’re proud to be providing coverage when it is most needed.”

Today Tori Peden, Banks Peninsula Community Board Chair made one of the first calls from her phone using the new service.

” Being able to make one of the first calls using service from this site has been fantastic. Giving our rural communities and emergency services access to reliable high-speed broadband and mobile service is essential and means that the southern side of State Highway 75 no longer has a black spot for coverage. Thanks, from all of us, goes to the RCG and to central government for getting this programme into our community” said Ms Peden.

The new RCG sites are the result of an industry leading collaboration between the three mobile network operators and Crown Infrastructure Partners (CIP) and aims to build over 450 cell sites 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 and Mobile Black Spots Fund programmes.  The RCG is responsible for building, operating, and maintaining this essential rural network infrastructure.

Spark Technology Director and RCG Board Member, Mark Beder said Spark was pleased to be part of a solution that is helping to bridge the digital divide for rural communities, at a time when connectivity is more important than ever before.

“Lockdown has shone a light on how important connectivity is for all New Zealanders. Building critical infrastructure in our rugged rural terrain is no easy task, and even more challenging during a pandemic and various stages of lockdown – but RCG responded and continued connecting rural communities when they really needed it.”

Tony Baird, Wholesale and Infrastructure Director at Vodafone New Zealand and RCG Board member says, “Switching on 100 cell sites is an awesome achievement, and we’re pleased to help connect even more rural New Zealanders to digital services as part of our commitment to levelling the urban-rural playing field. Connectivity is more important than ever now, and we’ve seen massive increases in internet usage as people work and learn from home. I’m proud of the collective mahi from the industry during lockdown.”

2degrees Chief Commercial Officer and RCG Board Chair, Paul Mathewson, offered his congratulations to the wider RCG team: “It’s fantastic to have reached this milestone – especially through such challenging times and when staying connected to the people who matter most, has never been so important”

The mobile sites are running on the latest 4G technology and services are now available to customers of Spark, Vodafone or 2degrees. Customers may need to upgrade their phone settings to enable 4G voice calling. Information is available on the websites for each company and anyone unsure if their device is capable of receiving and making calls over the 4G network should contact their service provider.

RCG liven sites during Covid-19 lockdown.

The RCG Liven 27 additional sites across rural New Zealand connecting thousands of households and providing new mobile coverage across the State Highway network.

As New Zealand continues to ‘stay home’ in our fight against Covid-19, the importance of the work being undertaken by the RCG to deliver the government’s Rural Broadband Initiative Phase 2 programme cannot be underestimated.

So far in lockdown RCG, who have been granted designated essential service status, have switched on 27 new RBI2 sites to provide rural communities the ability to work and school from home.

With the addition of these 27 sites into the RCG network, over 2000 homes and businesses now have access to high-speed wireless broadband and quality mobile coverage whilst around 95km of State Highways now have improved mobile services.

“At the time of the lockdown we had a large number of sites around New Zealand close to completion which we needed to secure and walk away from. Being granted Essential Service status means our team has focused on getting built sites ‘on air’ providing immediate service to as many rural communities as possible.” says RCG Chief Executive John Proctor. “Our team and build partners have worked in extraordinary circumstances but the importance of new coverage to those in isolated areas cannot be underestimated. We know the new connectivity will make a huge difference to the daily lives of locals and that’s why it’s more important than ever we have been able to complete sites and get them on air.”

The addition of the 27 sites takes RCG’s overall live sites across New Zealand to 90, a figure that all those working on the project are proud of, given the challenges presented by a national state of emergency lockdown.

As well as following already established strict Health & Safety protocols, the RCG and our build partners have successfully implemented controlled and meticulous Covid-19 procedures to access and work on sites, including ensuring Police permits are obtained for the RCG staff movements.

These are unprecedented times. We’re working together with our build partners, power companies and landowners with one goal – to liven sites and keep everyone safe whilst doing so.

“Response to the livening of these sites has been overwhelmingly positive from local community and council stakeholders and I can’t thank everyone enough for their contribution; it’s been a huge team effort and we’re proud to be providing coverage when it is most needed.”

The RCG delivers mobile coverage to the Bay of Plenty’s TECT Park

Long awaited mobile broadband coverage has now been switched on at the popular TECT Park in the Western Bay of Plenty. The move ensures that the more than 30,000 visitors, thrill seekers and outdoor adventurers can rely on seamless connectivity across the 1650 hectares of all terrain park.

The Rural Connectivity Group (RCG) was there for a special reception early December to mark the switching on of the park’s first mobile facility built under the RBI2 initiative (pictured).

RCG Head of Communications and Engagement, Caitlin Metz  joined Western Bay District and Tauranga City mayors, Garry Webber and Tenby Powell, TECT Chairperson Bill Holland, Deputy Chairperson Natalie Bridges and TECT Trustee Peter Blackwell, Ngai Tamarāwaho kaumatua Des Tata and Sonny Ranapia, and Park Manager Bill Wheeler for the occasion.

Western Bay Mayor Garry Webber says the facility is the coming of age for TECT Park.

“Until now, lack of telecommunications has been a risk factor to users’ safety and has also been a barrier to commercial development at the park and hindered our ability to promote the park to its full potential as a tourist and visitor attraction,” says Garry.

”From its inception, one of the Park’s core values has been ‘create’ and, with the development of basic infrastructure such as telecommunications, roading and power, the two councils are providing users with the tools to create their own dream playground at TECT Park.

“Our thanks go to the Rural Connectivity Group for being faithful to its mandate under the RBI2/MBSF programme to provide mobile and wireless broadband services to the TECT Park and surrounding neighbours.”

The RCG’s Caitlin Metz says the team had enjoyed working with the two councils, TECT Park management and Base Power to bring this much needed facility to the park.

“It has been a shared goal and successful collaboration. The services provided by Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees will provide safety and convenience for the 30,000 plus visitors to the park. Mobile operators have tried for a decade to bring services to the area and it is the success of the RBI2 and MBSF programmes that have ensured coverage has finally been delivered,” says Caitlin.

Cell phone reception will also be welcomed by the wider community between Oropi and Ngawaro which, until now, have put up with no coverage.

TECT Park and the Adrenalin Forest Adventure Experience received a mobile facility from Government’s Mobile Black Spots Fund Programme (MBSF).

The RCG appoints Chorus to deliver Backhaul Fibre to RBI2 cell sites

The Rural Connectivity Group (RCG) and Chorus have agreed that Chorus will play a key role in providing backhaul fibre to new mobile sites scheduled to be built under the RBI2 initiative.

Scalable backhaul is a critical component for the successful rollout of RBI2 across rural New Zealand, according to RCG acting Executive Programme Director John Proctor.

“We are really pleased to be working with a key partner like Chorus to deliver fibre, alongside our other backhaul solutions, key to enabling delivery of the sites in our programme.”

Chorus’s Chief Customer Officer Ed Hyde said: “We recognise the importance to New Zealand of high-quality mobile services in rural areas, and equally the importance of fibre in rolling out mobile infrastructure.

“This is a good deal for all participants and we expect it to benefit many rural communities over the coming years.”
“In order to deliver on this agreement, the team had to design a new fibre-based mobile backhaul product. In line with our requirement not to discriminate, this new backhaul product will now also be made available to any other mobile network builders to consume,” Hyde said.

The deal sees Chorus provide fibre backhaul to those RCG sites within fibre reach and in return Chorus will receive backhaul revenues from the completed sites for a 10 year period.

The Rural Connectivity Group meets the milestone of 100 sites signed

The Rural Connectivity Group (RCG) have celebrated reaching the milestone of securing the land needed for the first 100 cell sites to be built. The team are now ahead of schedule as they roll towards providing a minimum of 400 new mobile cell-sites, delivering high speed mobile broadband to at least 34,000 additional rural New Zealand households.

Brad Clarke, Head of Site Acquisition and Planning said that the progress to date hasn’t been without its challenges but reaching this point, ahead of schedule, shows that the strategy is hitting the mark with rural New Zealanders.

“We’re talking to rural Kiwis every day, and it’s clear that landowners who are coming onboard to provide a home for RCG sites are willing to go above and beyond, working with us for the good of their communities. Even though we recognise that the process and build can sometimes be challenging, we wholeheartedly thank them for their patience and fantastic support.”

Many of the towers to be erected amongst this first group are set to liven remote areas of the Far North and West Coast of the South Island, previously with little or no access to mobile and broadband services. A good proportion of these 100 sites are set to provide mobile services to former state highway ‘mobile blackspots’, areas of roading where motorists would not previously have been able to contact emergency services via mobile.

“There’s a reason why these parts of New Zealand haven’t been connected sooner – it’s not easy out there. Our build teams are working in geographically challenging conditions, often dealing with wild weather and rugged terrain. As we’ve progressed, what’s been evident is how critical it is the teams have that ‘number 8 wire’ innovative approach in getting the job done out there, “Brad says.

“The rural heartland of New Zealand has been waiting a long time for these services to arrive and local people fully expect having improved connectivity to provide more opportunities for those living, working and visiting nearby. We’re proud to be supporting that.”

Rural broadband to extend

Imagine not being able to check your emails or check the weather report online.

These days our expectations of being able to connect to the internet have increased.

But, believe it or not – black spots still exist, particularly across the rural sector where some farmers cannot get the optimum benefit from their technology-based farming equipment.

Reporter Alexia Johnston finds out what the Government is doing to rectify the situation in Central Otago and Wanaka.

Work is finally under way to bring rural Central Otago and Wanaka up to speed across various digital platforms.

Rural Connectivity Group (RCG) staff were in the wider district last week, to determine where potential sites could be rolled out under the Government’s Rural Broadband Initiative Phase 2 and Mobile Black Spot Fund.

It is a work in progress, but those initiatives will ensure a growing number of people throughout the district can tap into those services over the coming years.

Central Otago and Wanaka will feature among 400 new sites capable of delivering 4G broadband by December 2022.

Among those sites are Moa Creek, Lowburn, Lindis Valley, and Patearoa in Central Otago, and Blue Pool, Makarora and The Neck, near Wanaka.

An additional 54 towns, including St Bathans, will benefit, once the initial 400 were completed Rural Connectivity Group (RCG) engagement manager Caitlin Metz said.

sites in Central Otago and Wanaka will be capable of delivering 4G broadband over a shared mobile network by December 2022.

Ms Metz said work on the extra 54 towns would not start until the initial 400 were completed.

“The area needs to be investigated for a suitable site location that can provide the required coverage to the identified residents, and for the facility to be connected to mains power, connected to a fibre network, or connected via digital microwave radio to provide backhaul into the national telecommunications network. Negotiations with the identified landowner need to take place, a lease agreed and resource consent applied for,” she said, of the overall process.

Each site also needs to be designed, equipment ordered, the site built and then connected to the RCG network.

Ms Metz said that process alone could take up to 12 months.

Once it was up and running people on Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees would benefit.

Among those keen to see more services put into remote areas, particularly cellphone coverage, is Alison Fitzgerald, of St Bathans.

Ms Fitzgerald said lack of cellphone coverage in the township was a concern, particularly if someone needed urgent medical help while out walking and could not get to a landline.

“Having cellphone coverage in St Bathans will just establish security for those who have only got cellphones as a means of communication and visitors to the valley,” she said.

“People, like myself, don’t have a landline in their house. That’s what it will do – it will just make the place a bit more safer. My main concern is having that ability to call if you need help.”

“Rural residents will feel safer with better mobile coverage.” – Central Otago chief executive officer Sanchia Jacobs

Central Otago chief executive officer Sanchia Jacobs said the rollout would also have a “huge” impact on economic growth.

She said for example, some farmers were still unable to use their pivots to full potential due to a lack of connectivity.

It would also provide better access to online education, social services and health information.

“Rural residents will feel safer with better mobile coverage, first response teams will have quicker response times in emergencies and connectivity will also reduce the feeling of isolation for those living in remote areas.”

She believed it was not impossible to eventually have everyone connected.

“At this stage I would say that it’s not impossible – just a big task that relies on many factors coming together, including provision of funding, time, providers and collaboration between local and central Government agencies.”