Econet starts network build

Econet Wireless New Zealand Ltd., the New Zealand arm of African cellphone operator Econet Wireless Group Ltd., has finally begun its trial network rollout in Auckland.

Econet has acquired licenses from the Ministry of Economic Development (MED) in the 40GHz band and will use those for microwave backhaul links to the cellphone transmission sites in Auckland's CBD.

Sky Tower will be the hub for Econet's Universal Mobile Telephony System (UMTS) service that operates in the 2.1GHz spectrum, similar to Vodafone's 3G offering.

Project director Tex Edwards says the trial service is being deployed for Econet by its technology partner, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. of China. He reiterated Econet's stance that New Zealand's regulatory environment is preventing a larger rollout.

"We would like to set up 100 transmission sites, not ten," Edwards says.

While Econet set up shop in New Zealand five years ago, it has yet to offer any service. Edwards says Econet would like to co-locate its equipment at Vodafone New Zealand Ltd.'s sites and has offered the carrier commercial rates for wholesale access to them and also for network roaming, but has so far not got anywhere with negotiations. Vodafone declined to comment on any commercial negotiations.

Edwards points to other developed countries, where the regulators check the market power of incumbents, so as to allow new entrants to establish themselves, as examples New Zealand should follow.

Communications Minister David Cunliffe is currently reviewing the New Zealand telecommunications environment, with a view to encouraging competition.

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