Econet to build network in first half of 2006

Almost five years after arriving in New Zealand, Econet Wireless says it will begin constructing its third generation mobile phone network by the middle of next year.

Initially the network will be based only in Auckland CBD and will run on the Wideband CDMA standard as used by Vodafone. Further network expansion will be dependent on signing a roaming agreement, presumably with Vodafone. Such a rollout won't take place until late 2006.

Econet's technology partner in the build will be Chinese network provider Huawei Technologies, based in Shenzhen. Econet has not said how much the network will cost, but Vodafone New Zealand claims it spent over NZ$400 million (US$282 million) on its own 3G network, which covers most of the main centers.

Econet's plans come after a rocky year for the Africa-based company. A messy divorce from its business partner, South Africa-based Altech, left it without the cash it needed to invest in new networks and the Kenyan government asked pointed questions about the company's sustainability.

Here in New Zealand, then-Act MP Deborah Coddington also asked questions about Econet and its partnership with the Hautaki Trust, the Maori Spectrum Trust set up by the government to administer spectrum rights on behalf of Maori. The Trust paid Econet NZ$4 million in 2000.

The Telecommunications Act does allow for co-location of equipment on competitors' towers as well as regulated roaming access to competitors' networks. However, the company seeking access to a competitor must have built a "new cellular mobile network that covers no less than 10 percent of the area in which the New Zealand population normally lives or works" and must also lodge detailed rollout plans with the Commerce Commission.

Last month TelstraClear announced it would not be proceeding with its own mobile phone network build in New Zealand.

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