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Spark boosts rural wireless broadband capacity to meet COVID-19 demand

Spark has boosted its rural wireless broadband capacity in a bid to meet demand following the COVID-19 lockdown.

The telco will increase the data caps it has in place on rural wireless broadband plans for free, boosting capacity for rural New Zealanders who are working, learning and connecting in new ways as a result of the crisis.

Spark product director, Tessa Tierney said that the COVID-19 lockdown presented Spark with a unique challenge.

"To support New Zealanders to adapt to life in lockdown and beyond, we made the unprecedented decision to remove data caps nationwide for 100 days," she says.

"This meant for the first time in Spark's history we had to ensure our network could cope with nearly every single one of our customers working, learning and connecting from home."

Wireless broadband works by connecting customers to the nearest cell tower, rather than relying on physical infrastructure like fibre; which may not be available or may not be preferred by the customer due to the installation required. 

"Each cell tower has a certain amount of capacity available, so we put usage caps in place to ensure that customers in the area have a good experience," Tierney explains.

"While there were a small percentage within our network that experienced congestion during peak hours in the evening, overall our network coped incredibly well particularly considering usage doubled across the country," she says. 

"This has given us the confidence to increase our data caps in rural areas, where customers do not have access to the same amount of capacity as their urban counterparts.

"With this change Spark will have one of the highest wireless data plans in the market for rural customers and based on lockdown usage patterns we trust this increase will meet the needs of 90% of our current Rural Wireless customers," Tierney adds.

"There is still more to do to boost rural connectivity right across New Zealand but this is another step forward on a longer-term journey we are committed to travelling."

Spark says rural customers on the 120GB wireless broadband plan will automatically increase to 160GB and those on the 240GB plan will increase to 300GB without needing to pay anything extra from 1 July 2020.

Tierney said Spark continued to work with its industry peers through the Rural Connectivity Group to provide mobile and wireless broadband coverage to at least 34,000 rural homes and businesses by December 2022.

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