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Spark confident of problem-free service for All Blacks RWC quarter final

All Blacks captain Sam Whitelock addresses his team during their Rugby World Cup Group B game against Namibia (by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

New Zealand telco Spark has expressed confidence in the stability of its OTT platform ahead of tomorrow’s (Saturday’s) Rugby World Cup quarter final between New Zealand and Ireland, but has said coverage will immediately switch to public-service broadcaster TVNZ should issues arise.

Tomorrow’s match is set to be the biggest test of Spark’s infrastructure since the All Blacks’ opening 2019 World Cup game against South Africa on September 20. That game saw Spark’s service beset by technical problems, prompting an angry response from rugby fans.

Spark suffered technical problems that interrupted viewing for several thousand households. As a contingency, the platform simulcast the second half of that match, and the three World Cup matches played on September 21, on TVNZ’s Duke free-to-air television channel.

Ahead of tomorrow’s game, Spark’s head of corporate relations, Andrew Pirie, told Radio New Zealand that the telco has stress tested its systems since its earlier problems. He added: “We’re expecting a great performance but we’re not taking anything for granted.

“The issues we had on that previous All Blacks game on day two, those issues were not capacity related, so we’ve got no concerns whatsoever regarding capacity of the broadband network.

“The back up the plan is the one we’ve had all through the tournament and we’ve really only had to evoke that once out of all the games we’ve played to date and that’s if there are any problems, we’ll move immediately to a simulcast on TVNZ Duke.”

The early issues saw New Zealand’s acting Prime Minister, Winston Peters, broach the possibility of mandating free-to-air sports coverage in the country. Pirie said Spark has received 17,000 complaints from customers in the past fortnight, ranging from password issues to more complex technical problems regarding the streaming.

Pirie said “several hundred” customers have been experiencing the more complex problems, but added that they are getting fixed. “We’ve been very pleased with how the platform’s worked technically since that game on September 20 which was on day two of the tournament,” Pirie stated.

“Since then all the other games, there’s been 37 games in the tournament to date, the streaming has worked perfectly in terms of getting it from the ground in Tokyo or Japan, through our whole system, right to our customers doors.

“Where there have been some issues has been in peoples’ homes with their in home set up and devices and we’ve been working with customers to help them through that.”

TVNZ is contracted to show a minimum of seven live matches from the 2019 World Cup, including the final as well as substantial highlights and delayed match programming, with the latter including coverage of New Zealand’s group matches.