Telecom cuts deal to fill roaming hole

Dual-mode phones will allow Kiwi CDMA customers to use GSM networks

Telecom's "fix" to sort out overseas roaming for its mobile customers, dubbed WorldMode, took one step forward today. An agreement has been signed with mobile operator CSL in Hong Kong to extend roaming to some 180 countries — but on the GSM/UMTS standard as opposed to CDMA2000 1x/EV-DO that Telecom uses in New Zealand.

The incumbent has been under pressure to ensure that its customers can roam in Australia after Telstra shuts down the CDMA network this year in favour of a new GSM/UMTS one. Sorting out the roaming was identified as a priority for Telecom at the telco's last management briefing day for analysts in Sydney, with WorldMode phones mooted as the short-term solution.

Telecom is said to be building a GSM/UMTS network in New Zealand and close down the CDMA one by 2010 as the long-term solution to remain globally compatible with its mobile phones.

When customers use the phones in New Zealand, they will connect to Telecom's CDMA network only; while the WorldMode phones will have a SIM card like Vodafone's GSM models, says Katherine Murphy, Business PR manager for Telecom. These will probably be locked so that it's not possible for New Zealand customers to use them on the competitor's network.

Customers will have a single Telecom number, with just one voice mailbox and not two of each depending on the network they're on. Initially, roaming will be for voice only, but Murphy says data capability on GPRS/UMTS will arrive towards the end of the year.

Last year, Telecom launched the first of its WorldMode phones, the Sanyo 5521 but Murphy didn't have any details on the four new models yet. These will be available in June says Murphy, with additional Smartphones and PDAs to be introduced after that.

Pricing for the new service is also under wraps for the time being, but Murphy promises it will be keen, given "the horrendous charges" roaming usually entails, she says.

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