Imagine this: you’re driving to a far-flung town late one night. Suddenly, your car splutters and you manage to steer it to the side of the road before it completely dies. ‘No worries,’ you think. ‘I’ll just call for help.’ You pull out your mobile phone but something is wrong … it takes a while to realise that you have no bars on your phone: you’re in a mobile black spot!
If you think that sort of situation would be quite rare, unfortunately, in New Zealand, it is not. We have three different mobile phone networks, owned by Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees. But while these three companies cover 95 per cent of the places Kiwis live and work, the reality is this makes up only around 50 per cent of New Zealand’s land mass.
The five per cent of Kiwis not covered by mobile phone companies are spread across tricky terrain and difficult geography covering half of the countryside. This means if you do break down in an area with no mobile phone coverage, it is pretty unlikely there will be a passing car to help.
What is being done to improve mobile coverage?
With mobile technology becoming more advanced, and more important in today’s world of e-commerce, the lack of mobile phone coverage adds to the digital divide for rural communities.
Fortunately, the Government has decided it will step in to help with a Mobile Black Spot Fund. This will enable new mobile coverage for about 1000km of state highways and 108 tourist destinations. When completed in 2022, a further 20 to 30 per cent of New Zealand will have mobile coverage.
The Government will spend a total of $290 million on the Mobile Black Spot Fund and the second phase of the Rural Broadband Initiative. Both of these are branches of the Ultra-Fast Broadband roll-out.
One aim of the fund is open access, so when new towers are put up, all mobile phone companies will have access to them – meaning you will have coverage, no matter who your phone is with. Another benefit is the cellphone towers can offer wireless broadband – using technology known as “fixed wireless” – for communities struggling to get copper connectivity.
Focus on safety first
Safety is the first focus of the Mobile Black Spot Fund, explains Nick Manning from Crown Infrastructure Partners, the Crown company set-up to manage government investment in mobile and ultra-fast broadband.
State highways were prioritised according to the number of incidents – such as crashes – and the length of black spot along them. While the lack of mobile coverage can be an inconvenience if you have broken down, it is down-right dangerous after a crash.
Manning gives the example of State Highway 6 near Haast, on the South Island’s West Coast.
“There were several crashes on State Highway 6 and the crashes were mainly tourists. There is a more than 200km stretch without coverage from Lake Hawea in Wanaka up to Fox Glacier.
“There were a lot of horror stories about people, particularly tourists, having crashes and a passer-by would have to drive for one, one-and-a-half hours, just to get to a phone to call emergency services.”
The delay meant the “golden hour” was lost – the time after a traumatic injury where prompt medical treatment is most likely to prevent death. Work to give coverage in Haast was completed in March 2018.
Economic development also essential
Safety is not the only focus of the Mobile Black Spot Fund. Tourism spots are also covered to help enhance economic development.
Manning says with everything being online – including social media and communications – areas attracting high numbers of tourists have also been given priority. International tourist hot-spots are a particular focus, he says.
“The tourists and visitors themselves don’t view it positively if they can’t use their phones anywhere.”
New mobile phone coverage
So where in New Zealand will there be new mobile phone coverage? Here is a break-down by region:
The top of the country is known for being remote and rugged, and is set to get a number of benefits from the Mobile Black Spot Fund.
State highway coverage in Northland:
- SH12 at Waipoua Forest – 26.4km covered by 2019; a further 30.7km by 2021
- SH1 at Cape Reinga Coastal Walkway – 26.1km by 2020
- SH1 in Mangamuka – 2.5km by 2021
- SH15 in Kaikohe South – a total of 10.6 by 2019.
Northland tourism spots covered:
- Tane Mahuta by 2019
- Cape Reinga by 2019
- Ninety Mile Beach by 2020
- Kaeo by 2018
- Poieke by 2020
- Takahue by 2020
- Te Paki by 2019
- Urupukapuka Island by 2019
- Utakura by 2020
- Waitiki Landing by 2019
- Aranga by 2019
- Glinks Gully by 2019
- Omamari by 2019.
It is not surprising that Auckland, New Zealand’s most populous region and the place to get new-generation mobile technology first, does not have a lot of mobile black spots. This means Auckland gets minimal benefit from the Mobile Black Spot Fund. There are, however, a couple of places funded:
- SH16 by the Kaipara Habour – 9.9km covered by 2020
- Tourism spot Bethells Beach by 2020.
The vast region of Waikato is set to become more connected with the Mobile Black Spot Fund.
Waikato state highways covered:
- SH3 by Awakino River – 6.6km covered by 2020
- SH30 in Atiamuri – 2km by 2020
- SH1 in Upper Atiamuri – 1.2km by 2020
- SH1 near Tuahu – 4.3km by 2019
- SH32 in Kuratau – 0.4km by 2020
- SH41 in Kuratau – 0.9km by 2020
- SH25 in Kopu – 0.4km by 2019
- SH4 at Pureora Forest – 10.7km by 2020
- SH31 in Kawhia – 3.7km by 2020
- SH30 at Pureora Forest – 4.3km by 2019; a further 2.5km by 2021; a further 13.1km by 2021
- SH38 in Kaingaroa – 0.2km by 2019.
Waikato tourism priorities:
- Aotea by 2020
- Glen Murray by 2018
- Mokau by 2018
- Coromandel Coastal Walkway by 2018
- Waitawheta track by 2021
- Barryville by 2019
- Port Charles by 2020
- Waikaretu by 2020
- Waingaro by 2020
- Marokopa by 2021.
Bay of Plenty
The provincial Bay of Plenty region includes plenty of tourist spots. Some of the more tricky gorges and more remote tourist destinations will benefit from the fund.
State highways in Bay of Plenty:
- SH35 in Eastern Bay of Plenty – 28.5km covered by 2020
- SH2 in Taneatua – 0.3km by 2020; 4.4km by 2020
- SH2 in Waioeka Gorge – 0.1km covered by 2019
- SH35 in East Cape – 6.1km by 2019
- SH38 in Kaingaroa – 2.6km by 2019.
Bay of Plenty tourism attractions:
- Rotorua’s Buried Village by 2019
- Te Kaha by 2019
- Lake Tarawera by 2018
- Whanarua Bay by 2021
- Rotorua’s Waitangi by 2018
- Kaingaroa Forest by 2018
- TECT All Terrain Park by 2021
Despite having a number of tourist attractions, the focus in the Gisborne region is on state highway coverage:
- SH2 in Poverty Bay – 7.8km covered by 2020
- SH35 in East Cape – 14km by 2020
- SH2 in Waioeka Gorge – 26.2km by 2020
- SH35 in Whangara – 37.7km by 2020
Just two state highways and two tourism spots are covered by the Mobile Black Spot fund in Taranaki:
- SH3 in North Taranaki – 29.8km covered by 2020
- SH43 (Forgotten World Highway) near Toko Stream – 32.2km by 2020
- Tourism spot Tongaporutu by 2020
- Tourism spot Te Wera by 2019
The aptly named Forgotten World Highway is a focal point for Mobile Black Spot funding in Manawatu-Whanganui region, a highway known as a tourist drawcard.
Manawatu-Whanganui state highways covered:
- SH4 (Forgotten World Highway) Ongarue to Taumaruiti – 0.3km covered by 2019
- SH43 (Forgotten World Highway) in Taumaranui – 20.6km by 2019
- SH41 in Kuratau – 6.3km by 2018
- SH4 through National Park – 16.3km by 2021
- SH4 in Pureora Forest – 0.4km by 2019
- SH4 by Whanganui River – 2.7km by 2019; a further 8.1km by 2020
- SH30 in Pureora Forest – 12.1km by 2021
Tourism spots in Manawatu-Whanganui:
- Bennydale South East by 2020
- Owhango by 2018
- Ruapehu’s Raurimu by 2020
- Pongaroa by 2019
Hawke’s Bay region
The sunny, wine country of Hawke’s Bay is set to come even more attractive with new mobile coverage.
State highways in Hawke’s Bay:
- SH2 in Poverty Bay – 18km covered by 2020
- SH50 in Tikokino – a total of 12km by 2020
- SH2 in North Hawkes Bay – a total of 40.3km by 2021
- SH5 in North Hawkes Bay – 0.7km by 2020
- SH38 at Lake Waikaremoana – 24km by 2021.
Hawke’s Bay tourism spots:
- Blackhead by 2019
- Kairakau Beach by 2019
- Tutira by 2019
- Waipatiki Beach by 2019
- Waihua Beach by 2019.
Like Auckland, Wellington already has good mobile coverage and has little benefit for the Mobile Black Spot Fund. Just two tourism areas in Wellington region are covered:
- Palliser Bay lighthouse by 2020
- Makara by 2018.
Nelson and Marlborough
In the South Island’s Nelson and Marlborough regions get just a small slice of the funding pie, with just six mobile black spots covered between the two regions:
- SH6 in Rai Valley – 18.4km covered by 2019; a further 9.4km by 2020
- SH63 near Nelson Lakes – 41.2km by 2021.
- Tourism spot Nelson’s Cable Bay by 2019.
- Tourism spot Kenepuru by 2019
- Tourism spot Okiwi Bay by 2020.
The Nelson Lakes is a key focus in the Tasman region, for both state highway and tourism coverage.
State Highways covered in Tasman:
- SH6 in Buller Gorge – 4.3km covered by 2019
- SH65 in Buller Gorge – 31.4km by 2019
- SH6 in Nelson Lakes – 8.4km by 2019
- SH63 in Nelson Lakes – 8.2km by 2019.
Tourism spots in Tasman:
- Blue Lake by 2019
- Nguroa Bay by 2019
- Abel Tasman National Park by 2019
- Bainham by 2019
- Nelson Lakes by 2019
- Shenandoah by 2019.
West Coast region
The rugged West Coast region arguably benefits the most from the Mobile Black Spot Fund with a long list of state highways and tourist attractions being covered. As mentioned above, the safety of tourists on the highways is a key consideration through Haast and Buller Gorge.
West Coast state highways:
- SH6 in Buller Gorge – 1.8km covered by 2020; a further 7.2km by 2021
- SH69 in Buller Gorge – 4.7km by 2020
- SH65 in Buller Gorge – 0.4km by 2019
- SH6 in Haast – 86.2km by 2020; a further 26.8km by 2021
- SH7 in Reefton – a total of 5.1km by 2020
- SH6 in Punakaiki – 22.2km by 2021.
West Coast tourism priorities:
- Haast by 2019
- Ruatapu by 2019
- Buller Gorge South by 2020
- Bruce Bay by 2020
- Lake Kaniere by 2020
- Okarito Lagoon by 2019
- Okuru by 2020
- Charleston by 2020
- Rapahoe by 2020
- Jacobs Ridge by 2020
- Lake Wahapo by 2019
- Neils Beach by 2019
- Paringa by 2020
- Pukekura by 2019.
Canterbury is another region set to get plenty of benefits from the Mobile Black Spot Fund, with a number of both highways and tourism attractions covered by the fund.
Canterbury state highways:
- SH1 in Mangamaunu – 9.7km covered by 2020
- SH79 in Totara Valley – a total of 6.5km by 2020
- SH8 in Totara Valley – a total of 22.5km by 2020
- SH80 at Mount Cook – 8.7km by 2019
- SH75 in Banks Peninsula – a total of 17.7km by 2020
- SH7 in Reefton – 3.6km by 2020
- SH8 in Burkes Pass – 2.5km by 2020
- SH73 in Arthurs Pass – 19km by 2019
- SH8 in Lindis Pass – 10km by 2019.
Tourism attractions covered in Canterbury:
- Christchurch’s Little River by 2019
- Hurunui’s St James by 2020
- Lavericks Bay by 2019
- Taylors Mistake by 2018
- Port Robinson by 2019
- Lake Heron by 2020
- Mt Sunday by 2020
- Birdlings Flat by 2019
- Mangamaunu Beach by 2020
- Bealey by 2019
- Albury by 2020
- Tasman Glacier walks by 2018.
Otago region, which sprawls from the east coast to mountain country, is another region known for its remoteness that is set to benefit hugely from the Mobile Black Spot Fund.
Otago state highways covered:
- SH8 in Lindis Pass – 9.1km covered by 2019
- SH87 in Green Valley – 0.1km by 2019
- SH85 in Green Valley – a total of 20.3km by 2019
- SH6 in Cromwell – a total of 0.4km by 2019
- SH8 in Cromwell – 1.2km by 2019
- SH8 at Raes Junction – 10.4km by 2019
- SH90 at Raes Junction – 10.8km by 2019
- SH87 in Shannon – 15.8km by 2019
- SH6 in Kingston – 13.5 by 2019
- SH6 in Haast – 38.6km by 2020
Tourism priorities in Otago:
- Queenstown’s Blue Pool by 2019
- Makarora by 2019
- Greenstone by 2019
- Lindis Valley by 2019
- Moa Creek by 2020
- Raes Junction by 2019
- Taieri Mouth by 2020
- Lake Wanaka’s Mou Waho Island by 2018
- Mount Trotter by 2019
- Waitaki Lakes area by 2018
The bottom of the country is prone to a lack of mobile coverage. In this region, the main focus is on remote tourist attractions and tracks.
State highways in Southland:
- SH6 in Kingston – 3.2km by 2019
- SH94 in Milford Sound – 33.7km by 2020.
Tourism spots in Southland:
- Mirror Lake by 2020
- Routeburn Track by 2020
- Milford Sound by 2020
- Waikawa by 2019
- Homer Tunnel by 2020
- Dipton by 2020
- Mount Eglinton by 2020
- Knobs Flat by 2020
- Waikawa South by 2020.