Triple deal tipped to deliver third mobile operator to NZ

NZ Communications is understood to have signed a national roaming agreement with Vodafone

NZ Communications, formerly operating as Econet, may be preparing to launch the global Virgin Mobile brand in New Zealand.

The company is understood to have signed a national roaming agreement with Vodafone which would allow it to start operating a nationwide mobile service fast, without having to build its own network.

Communications Minister David Cunliffe recently dropped a hint that a third mobile operator could be entering the market.

“With the potential entry of a third mobile player, the government is watching closely to ensure that the existing duopoly players do not engage in access-denying behaviour,” he said at a telecommunications summit in late July.

Computerworld’s Australian sister publication reported last week that Virgin Mobile has completed an infrastructure upgrade across the Tasman and in New Zealand, to support “aggressive growth plans for its 3G network” in both countries.

However, communications person Amber Morris of Virgin Mobile’s Sydney office would only say that at this present time, the UK mobile operator has no plans to launch in New Zealand. Morris provided no further details, but referred enquiries to Virgin Mobile’s UK office.

Virgin Mobile has been operating in Australia since 2000, part-owned by telco Optus. It is now wholly owned by Optus, but has shown little interest in the New Zealand market to date.

NZ Communications chief executive Bill Osborne says his company has no comment to make on the possible deal with Virgin Mobile and Vodafone. Osborne would not reveal any details as to the service, such as launch date and whether or not it will be GSM only, or feature 3G as well.

Tom Chignell, Vodafone’s general manager of corporate affairs, confirmed there is a national roaming deal with NZ Communications.

He adds that NZ Communications has also purchased some 6MHz of 900MHz spectrum from Vodafone, at “a fair market price not inconsistent with what is usually paid for such blocks”. The deal is waiting for the Ministry of Economic Development’s decision on radio frequency allocations.

NZ Communications was known as Econet before its restructuring and refinancing last year. It was set up in 2001 together with Hautaki Trust and in ownership of radio frequency spectrum allocated to Maori.

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