Econet, Short Week

Top Stories: - Econet Wireless - Short week

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- Econet Wireless

- Short week

- Econet Wireless

The Herald has done a couple of interesting stories on Econet Wireless this week that bear discussing.

Econet, as you may remember, is the African telco that has been promising great things for the New Zealand telecommunications market for several years. It was going to build a GSM network and buy capacity off Vodafone's national network and challenge the cost structure and pricing of the mobile market. More power to them, we said.

And then, there was nothing. Nothing at all for such a long time. The front man for Econet, Tex Edwards, went uncharacteristically quiet and disappeared offshore for ages.

Econet's big partner in its New Zealand venture, if it can be called that, is the Hautaki Trust - that government-established trust that was given $5 million and the rights to buy a chunk of third generation spectrum to set up a 3G phone network. The cash was to help the trust find a suitable partner to develop the network for the benefit of Maori.

The trust chose Econet and paid $4 million for a share in Econet Wireless New Zealand.

The chair of the trust, Bill Osborne, eventually gave up that post and moved over to Econet itself as chair of its board.

After a couple of years of complete silence, more or less, Econet has announced it's merged with another African telco, South Africa's Allied Technologies (Altech). The new company is said to be very keen on investing more in New Zealand especially since it can get its hands on 3G spectrum cheaply.

But you have to ask yourself, what on earth does an African GSM provider want with the New Zealand market? Surely with most countries in Africa crying out for a basic GSM network, and with equipment manufacturers still eager to sell what is considered all-but-obsolete kit in the rest of the world, and when you consider Africa's huge population, it makes little sense to invest in New Zealand.

The Herald has seen documents that discuss the lengths to which Hautaki and Econet lobbied the government in the lead up to all this. Not content with promising to earn "$1 billion in direct foreign investment, at least 1000 jobs and cellular rates in line with other OECD countries", it seems Hautaki and Econet demanded access, in the form of mandatory roaming, to Vodafone's network or "the arrangement with our partner is likely to fall over and no third operator will come into NZ and Maori will once again be left in the cold".

It will be interesting to see where Econet goes from here. Will it actually invest the cash in 3G infrastructure within New Zealand? It can't work in partnership with TelstraClear or Vodafone or even Telecom because of the limits on how much spectrum a company can own, so it's out on its own. Will we see another entirely separate network? I'd welcome more players in the cellular space as I fear our current market is somewhat stagnant in terms of competition, but to have Telecom, Vodafone, TelstraClear and Econet all offering 3G networks seems a bit far-fetched.

This industry is never boring, I'll say that much.

Maori trust in gun over spectrum lobbying - NZ Herald

Maori cellphone project backfires - NZ Herald

Maori, Econet GSM plan still fuzzy - Computerworld online

Econet Wireless says it's still here - Computerworld Online

Econet NZ parent picks up partner, cash injection - NBR

- Short week

What's this? A FryUp that's not only early but has more than one story in it? Not really.

Much as I like taking a day off, it does bug me that the rest of the week gets to be so hectic to accommodate it. Worse, it seems to overflow into the week after as well, as our deadlines get crushed out of all shape.

Typically, when it's a short week someone's away from the office. However, that wasn't the case this week, thankfully. Instead it was the week of the deadline for entries in the annual Qantas Media Awards.

It's a funny business entering awards. On the one hand it's a great opportunity to look back at the year in the news and see just what has gone before. On the other hand it annoys me immensely because most of the stuff I write is ineligible, including the FryUp.

Why, you cry? Well it's all online you see. To enter the Qantas Media Awards you have to be writing for a newspaper or a magazine or doing TV or radio. The internet does not exist.

But surely there's a web category in this day and age, you ask? No. No there is not. Well, there sort of is. Last year for the first time there was a website of the year award. (Nzoom won it, ironically, around the time TVNZ announced it was doing away with it.) But there remains no category for news stories, features, columns or diatribes that are written specifically for the web.

It's not just on my own behalf that I lament this lack. The Herald breaks news online during the day, as does Stuff and Nzoom; Scoop managed to get the story of the Diebold voting machines into the public arena; and Russell Brown's collection of bloggers over at Public Address are doing a bang-up job of analysing the world around us, to name just a few local online news outlets. Aardvark. Nearly forgot Bruce (sorry, Bruce).

Shouldn't the media awards be about the media as a whole or are we online types just getting uppity? Sure, we're not all straight news sites - some are commentary, some are aggregation sites, but it's all about the news isn't it?

Just a few sources - I'm sure I've missed dozens of sites that should be mentioned.

Computerworld Online website

New Zealand Herald website

Stuff website

Nzoom website

Scoop website

Public Address website

Aardvark website

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