New Zealand's mobile telecommunications market is set to be reshaped in the coming weeks as TelstraClear prepares to announce its plans for its own 3G network here.
Currently, New Zealand has two entirely separate cellphone networks — a situation almost unique in the developed world. Overseas operators more commonly roam on each other's networks and customers can change providers without changing handsets.
Speculation has centred on four scenarios for TelstraClear's mobile plans:
- TelstraClear may have already signed a deal with Vodafone to roam on its Wideband CDMA network when it is launched later this year;
- TelstraClear may sign a deal with Telecom to co-locate its mobile equipment on Telecom's cellphone towers. In return, one source claims, TelstraClear would allow Telecom to launch a new mobile brand using the W-CDMA network;
- Telstra could roam on Telecom's existing 3G network. In Australia, Telstra has rolled out a 3G network based on the same EV-DO technology used by Telecom;
- TelstraClear may decide against entering the mobile market, and could continue reselling Vodafone's service.
If TelstraClear does sign up with one of the current network operators, it will leave the other effectively alone in any battle for the mobile dollar. Customers could switch between network providers without having to buy a new handset, something that's not possible today.
Financial analysts, particularly, seem to be in something of a tiz over TelstraClear's investment plans. Opinions vary from one extreme to the other and back again, often within the same statement.
Some believe a deal with Telecom is likely, despite the competing technology, as it will allow TelstraClear to co-locate its equipment on Telecom's existing cellular towers with little interference issues. Telecom currently has its 025 cellphone network, which runs TDMA, its 027 network with its CDMA 1xRTT technology, and its new T3G network, which is a data overlay running on top of the 1xRTT technology.
Rumours about whether Telecom will itself introduce a W-CDMA network, or work in conjunction with TelstraClear to build one network between them, continue to fly.
Telecom's recent decision to take legal action over the Telecommunications Commissioner's draft ruling on mobile termination rates, which describes Telecom's T3G network as not being 3G (third-generation), muddies the water further: any introduction of a W-CDMA network would weaken Telecom's case that it already has a 3G network.
TelstraClear already has an existing relationship with Vodafone to resell Vodafone's service under its own brand with the 029 prefix. However, that relationship has soured over recent times and the contract has not been extended, although the service is still available. Vodafone country manager Russell Stanners claims users of 029 phones are its customers, should the two companies go their separate ways: TelstraClear claims the customers are its own.
Stanners has told Computerworld he is quite willing to discuss roaming agreements with other mobile operators if it makes commercial sense.
TelstraClear's decision may also impact other hopeful operators. Econet Wireless, which has long promised to build a network here, has yet to break ground and will no doubt be watching developments closely. Country manager Tex Edwards believes there is room in New Zealand for four mobile phone networks.
Schedule 1 of the Telecommunications Act covers national roaming onto a competitor's network and says the new entrant must have "rolled out a new cellular mobile network that covers no less than 10% of the area in which the New Zealand population normally lives or works".
Any company using the Act to seek access to a mobile network would have to submit detailed network build plans to the Commerce Commission. The Commission's network access group manager, Osmond Borthwick, won't comment on whether any company has filed such plans.
However, Borthwick says companies that reach a commercial agreement would not be eligible for a regulated service anyway and would not need to file with the Commission.
Interestingly, if either Vodafone or Telecom is forced to allow TelstraClear or any other new entrant access to its mobile network, New Zealand will be the first country in the world to allow unbundling of a mobile network before it unbundles its fixed line network.
Who's on first?
Vodafone New Zealand:
- Currently operates a GSM/GPRS network
- Rolling out W-CDMA later this year
- Trialling HSDPA to offer up to 5Mbit/s
Telecom New Zealand:
Currently operates three networks:
- 025 calls over TDMA
- 027 calls over CDMA 1xRTT
- T3G calls over CDMA EV-DO in select cities for speeds up to 2Mbit/s
- Resells Vodafone's service under its own name and the 029 prefix
- Sought tenders from vendors to build its own network in New Zealand
- Has begun acquiring sites around New Zealand and is rumoured to have begun construction of its network