Econet Wireless says it's still here

The chair of Econet Wireless says the company is not out for the count but is still planning to launch a GSM network in New Zealand.

The chair of Econet Wireless says the company is not out for the count but is still planning to launch a GSM network in New Zealand.

"We're still going through the capital raising process," says Bill Osborne. A launch date will be set when the funds are in place.

Osborne won't say how much money is needed but it is in addition to $4 million secured from Hautaki, the commercial arm of Te Huarahi Tiki, the Maori Spectrum Trust.

The trust was set up to own and manage the block of 2GHz spectrum set aside for Maori by the government during the spectrum auction in 2000. The government also gifted the trust with $5 million to help pay for the cost of "finding and establishing a relationship with a commercial partner".

The trust paid Econet Wireless, a UK-based telco that operates mostly in Africa, $4 million for a 30% stake in Econet Wireless New Zealand, which announced plans two years ago to build a GSM-based cellular network throughout the country.

Osborne says the telco sector downturn has led to delays in the rollout, but he has high hopes for the future.

Rather than be put off by plans by TelstraClear to build a 3G network, and for Vodafone to upgrade its service to 3G, Osborne is upbeat.

"What's encouraging is the fact that Telstra wants to come in, so people are acknowledging there is room for another player. Up to that point they were all denying it."

It's less a question of whether the market has room for new Econet and TelstraClear networks, than one of how the networks evolve, Osborne says.

He won't say what market segment Econet would try to target or whether Econet would work with one of the existing providers rather than building separate infrastructure.

"We don't mind working with others but the plan has always been to build."

However, Econet wouldn't compete directly with the national carriers.

"We'd only be a small player in the market. We'd be looking to supply niche markets rather than to go head on with the big boys."

Osborne says initially the company would target the three main centres but would expand beyond that.

"Our ultimate ambition would be to create a full network [throughout New Zealand]."

Osborne was trust chair as well as chief executive of Hautaki. However, he resigned the former post to take up the role of chair of Econet Wireless. The trust is now chaired by Mavis Mullins.

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