In which Miles paints the picture of internet in New Zealand, with a focus on travelers.
Broadband in New Zealand has improved a lot since I lived here 10 years ago. Service is now available for around $70 per month, with good fast speeds, and unlimited data. Of course this isn’t what a traveler needs. Note that on inquiring with a hotel in Bay of Islands about the reliability of their internet, I was told that Northland doesn’t have fast broadband. I’m not sure what that means. Maybe only some parts of New Zealand have access to high-speed internet.
Early in my 2015 travels I met a young Canadian couple who asked me why WiFi in New Zealand so often failed to work at all. The girl asked whether there might be some incompatibility between their hardware and New Zealand WiFi. I was familiar with the experiences that lead to this question – businesses that offer free WiFi, handing you passwords of 10-15 characters on small slips of paper that you type in to connect, but you never actually get any internet access. I told them that their equipment is fine, that many businesses buy a kind of package deal that involves a 3rd party providing WiFi for their customers which never works, or works inconsistently, and they themselves can do little to fix. This kind of experience is common enough that a person may well start to wonder if they are the problem.
Reliable WiFi is not yet something that business owners in much of New Zealand see as an added value that they want to use to attract more business. Many try, as noted, but have not yet, apparently, made it enough of a priority that it is convenient, or in some cases even actually works. This means that, for travelers, finding access to the internet can be problematic.
Recently I spoke with an Irish couple about WiFi in New Zealand and Australia. They said that the quality and availability in Australia was shocking, especially after traveling through Asia where WiFi is available and easy to access everywhere you go. I met them at a campground in the Bay of Islands area that they said that it was the first in their travels of New Zealand that offered free unlimited WiFi to guests.
The AT HOP card is a convenient method paying for your mass transit in the greater Auckland area.
I had to go to their office in the Britomart and have human intervention to complete my registration, which is supposed to be a simple matter of signing up online. That didn’t work, so I had to spend some time working with a representative to complete my registration. I tested the WiFi and it wasn’t working, but he told me that sometimes it takes a while, and that I should come back if it didn’t start working.
It never did. And I never did.
Having reviewed the caveats and conditions attached to using AT OP WiFi, I opted not to invest any more time in it. The following is copied from the AT HOP WiFi page (https://at.govt.nz/bus-train-ferry/at-hop-card/at-hop-wifi/):
To access AT HOP WiFi you need to have:
- a valid AT HOP card,
- registered your AT HOP card,
- topped up or used your AT HOP card within the last 5 days, excluding the day when the WiFi is used,*
- an account balance on your AT HOP card that is not negative.*
What you need to know
* Please note, if:
- your AT HOP card has a negative balance; and/or
- you have not used your AT HOP card within the last 5 days; and/or
- you have not used your AT HOP card for a period of 5 days, and then you use it again,
it may take up to 48 hours for your Wi-Fi access to be restored from the time of top up and/or travel.
In other parts of the world, the transit company would simply offer free WiFi in their stations. Or, offer free WiFi to customers who have a card and have registered. The additional caveats and conditions, to me, are a good indication of how WiFi is seen here in New Zealand – it’s kind of a big deal, there are hoops through which to jump, and in the end it may just not work.
Auckland free Wi-Fi service
I haven’t tried it lately. If it’s good it would probably be very helpful when in Auckland. But obviously it won’t help outside of Auckland.
Apparently New Zealand has both the fastest and most expensive mobile broadband in the world. Both are explained by the very low density of users in all parts of the country. This information comes from a blog that is no longer available, but cached at this link:
As I’ve described, there will be times when good free WiFi will not be available, so I did some comparison shopping to find the right combination of prices, quantity of data, and the kind of features/limitations that always seem to come with mobile service.
First, some info on cell phone plans. In the US I used Cricket Wireless – NOT a choice that I would recommend, but it was one of the least expensive, and the one I started and stayed with. For about $40 per month I got unlimited talk and text and 2GB of data. In New Zealand I use 2 Degrees Mobile. I pay $19 per month for 100 voice minutes, which I never use (and they do roll over), unlimited text, and 500GB of data. A 1GB value pack is an additional $20, and does not roll over.
As you can see, mobile data is where the difference lies; it is what makes mobile phone service in New Zealand more expensive. People use mobile internet differently in New Zealand. For example, people generally don’t watch video on their phones.
Spark is a mobile service provider that has WiFi hotspots scattered throughout the country. You can use these if you use their mobile service. You can also sign up for a plan that will let you just use these hotspots. You can use up to 1GB of data per day with their plan. That’s up to 30GB per month. The Canadian couple I mentioned above found this service useful. I felt that it would be an inconvenience to seek out a hotspot when I had serious work to do. But it is an option to consider.
2degrees 12GB Zone Data Pack costs $99, and lasts for 6 months. The drawback is that it can only be used within zones – most of the larger cities (see their zone map – http://www.2degreesmobile.co.nz/mobile-data/zones). This is the best deal available on mobile data, but a traveler will probably need a plan for connecting outside of those zones. My pre-pay phone plan includes 500mb, and that will help me avoid finding myself unable to connect to the internet, but obviously that will go fast. Another backup is needed.
By using another provider, I can increase my chances of avoiding situation in which I need to work but have no coverage.
Vodafone offers 5gb of mobile data for $80. It isn’t limited to zones, and they have a fast network that can be accessed in more of the country than 2degrees. This too lasts for 6 months.
In the Auckland and Rotorua areas I used my phone as a wireless hotspot, using 2degrees mobile broadband. In the Bay of Islands I used a Vodafone USB dongle to connect to their mobile broadband.
It is good to have this mobile connectivity, however it is quite expensive. My Piha photos occupy 84mb of disc space, and I uploaded them to 2 different locations. And this blog is not the only heavy use I make of the internet. Obviously I will save a lot of money if I supplement mobile internet heavily with free WiFi. Thus, traveling New Zealand is a constant quest for that place that offers good, free, WiFi.
Internet cafes vary quite a bit. I don’t have any recent experience with the kind that is full of PCs, and are often gaming cafes. I much prefer the places that are cafes of the variety where you sit down and have a coffee (and preferably also some food), and also have WiFi. I find them a much more comfortable place to spend a day working. It helps to be able to have a good meal without changing locations.
Cafes and restaurants with WiFi
Find a place with good WiFi, and you have found a real gem. As I mentioned, not all cafes and restaurants and such see internet for customers as part of their business model, abd a lot of them use a system where they hand the customer small slips of paper with long access codes. It is common to have to ask for another after something like an hour, or after using some limited amount of data. It isn’t uncommon for these to not actually give internet access, even after successfully connecting. It is also common for such establishments to be serviced by internet providers that require a charge to your credit card for access, in the best cases to be used in a variety of different locations, in the worst they simply don’t work. I stayed in a hotel once where this happened, after I had paid for their expensive breakfast for the purpose of sitting down for a few hours of internet use. I was refunded for the internet, and had to seek a connection elsewhere.
To clarify what I mean by good WiFi – you walk in, and if you have used that WiFi before, your phone simply connects. Boot up your laptop and it does likewise. Whether or not a password is required, it doesn’t expire after some brief period of time, and if there is a data cap, it is reasonably high. One restaurant indicated that they were happy to give me a new password after I used up my allotted 20mb, but that went by so fast I didn’t bother to ask for a second. I just used my mobile internet.
People often mentioned McDonald’s. I had some time one evening, was in close proximity to a McDonald’s, and decided that rather than delay the inevitable moment when that was my only option, I’d find out whether it would even help me in an emergency.
Apparently all McDonalds offer free WiFi. Or maybe that’s too optimistic, they are found all over the world. I’m told that all McDonalds in New Zealand offer free WiFi.
The Terms and Conditions didn’t answer my next big question, but the post-login screen did:
“Your Remaining Download Limit is: 50 MB of 50 MB”
I can do something with that. But not much.
I was able to browse reddit, but Avast! SecureLine VPN was never able to connect to a server. McDonald’s Terms and Conditions did have a lot to say about the possibility of my passwords being acquired by someone, and this made me want to take the precaution of using VPN, but it wasn’t happening. Yahoo! Messenger never connected, and neither did Skype.
McDonald’s is an option. But I’m not lovin’ it.
Good, free WiFi
So, the holy grail is a comfortable place to spend some time and access the internet conveniently, reliably, and for free. Fortunately I’ve been lucky. I’ve found places that served my purposes well enough everywhere I’ve traveled so far this year. Admittedly, my travels have not been extensive. But these places are indeed gems, and deserve to be acknowledged. My favorite place to work is Henri Café in Devonport, so I’ll start with them. But they deserve their own post, so I’ll end this post on a bit of cliffhanger, and talk about Henri Café in more detail in the near future.