Opinion: ComCom concerns and W-CDMA rollouts

If you want to play a rough game, you need to have a tough ref

June is shaping up to be D-Day on the mobile broadband front, with three W-CDMA networks of various forms to be launched by Telecom, Vodafone and NZ Communications. This technology represents a significant step up from services available today.

Currently Telecom’s EVDO Rev A network — according to Epitiro’s data — is the strongest performer by far. Epitiro’s CTO in the UK, on seeing the download speeds achieved, asked me jokingly if I had the decimal point in the right place. But even these speeds will pale into insignificance compared to those theoretically achievable with the new technology.

Epitiro currently has several hundred agents around the country tracking mobile broadband performance, and will have a network of agents and lab-based probes ready in June to provide a comprehensive picture of the three networks’ relative performances across a range of service measures.

Mobile services are trickier to measure than fixed for obvious reasons; there are many external variables that can temporarily impact upon performance and can vary considerably in their effect according to time of day, number of users, weather conditions and so forth.

There is also the issue of whether when testing, one attempts to establish equidistance from the three companies’ antennae at each measurement point or adopts a more customer-centric approach, which would be to take a lot of tests from a range of populated locations.

One of the advantages of using a desktop agent to measure mobile services is that customer satisfaction data can also be gathered at the same time at no extra cost, from the same customers whose service is being measured.

The graph below represents the customer satisfaction “starting line” for the three mobile players. Telecom has a clear advantage, although this does not reflect the substantial delta in actual network performance it currently has. Epitiro will be publishing these and service performance results as the new networks are launched.

Meanwhile, it’s good to see someone else out there is flying the flag for greater debate on the future of the Commerce Commission. Fran O’Sullivan and John Drinnan, senior business journos at the New Zealand Herald, independently re-iterated a couple of points made in my last column regarding the remarkably lacklustre nature of lawyer Grant David’s argument to abolish the commission, and his reticence in conducting anything resembling a robust cost/benefit analysis.

If you want to play a rough game, you need to have a tough ref. David contends the commission has become “more coach than referee”. I’m not sure when he last watched a game of footy, but it’s the ref whose job it is to hand out the red cards.

The commission, which I should add is a client of Epitiro’s, has to be willing and able to resort to playing a strong hand. This isn’t the only tool in the toolbox, and the commission needs to understand that. But if the ref is more Matt Goddard (7 cards issued in his last Super14 match) than Paddy O’Brien, change the ref. Don’t abandon refereeing.

Fran O’Sullivan is under no illusion that Paula Rebstock’s departure has nothing to do with “pursuing other interests” and everything to do with the commission under her reign as being seen by a few influential people as a bit too aggressive. That’s where the debate should focus.

It’s worth remembering the mess an emasculated regulatory regime has got the global banking system into. The Glass-Steagall Act, passed in 1933 during the Great Depression to regulate the banking system, had been a target of big business for decades. A few short years after its 1999 repeal and guess what? More unregulated stupidity and another major financial crisis.

If you lose your job this year through redundancy, it will more than likely be as a direct or indirect result of the ill-conceived removal of that single sensible regulatory barrier, made by those representing vested interests. David might simply be the latest in a long line of that ilk.

My favourite part of his argument is his claim that the commission is too expensive. You see, it has to spend an awful lot of money fighting litigation brought about by er, lawyers like David whose job it is to drag them into the courts.

He then has the gall to complain they’re spending too much money!

I challenge David to publish a comprehensive cost/benefit analysis that demonstrates that the commission is a net liability.

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