Maori, EcoNet GSM plan still fuzzy

Two years after promising a mobile phone network to rival that of Vodafone and Telecom, Maori 3G spectrum owners the Hautaki Trust and offshore telco EcoNet Wireless appear no closer to a launch.

Two years after promising a mobile phone network to rival that of Vodafone and Telecom, Maori 3G spectrum owners the Hautaki Trust and offshore telco EcoNet Wireless appear no closer to a launch.

No one associated with either party was keen to be quoted last week and the outcome of a much-publicised deal between the two seems as hazy as ever.

This despite a gung-ho radio interview by Mavis Mullins of the Te Huaraki Tika Trust, which owns Hautaki. In the interview, broadcast last week, Mullins again held out prospects of a GSM mobile communications network to rival the established networks. Mullins said returns would be “multidimensional”, creating not only benefit and potential profit from the network but “an opportunity for Maori to upskill into this area [wireless communications]”.

Two years ago Tex Edwards, director of Econet Wireless New Zealand, announced plans to build New Zealand's third cellular phone network. "Once government changed the regulatory regime we could build a business case that includes rolling out to the country," he said.

Approached this week, Mullins is declining to comment on her assertions. The trust she represents, she says, is only a custodian of the spectrum assets.

She referred Computerworld Online to Bill Osbourne, head of the Hautaki Trust, responsible for the operational side of the plan.

Hautaki Trust’s corporate trustee, Hautaki Ltd, bought 30% of EcoNet Wireless for the sum of $4 million earlier this year. Osbourne is a director of both companies.

EcoNet is trying to raise further capital in South Africa, and Mullins acknowledged that “resources” currently fall somewhat short of likely needs.

A spokeswoman for Osbourne said he did not wish to comment, and referred comment to Andy Mikkelsen, legal and regulatory manager at EcoNet.

Mikkelsen appeared surprised at being approached, and declined to be quoted. Nothing would move on the GSM plan for at least another two months, he said. The organisation also didn't want to be in the public eye. “We don’t feel speculation is helpful at this stage.”

Asked about Mullins’s frank comments, Mikkelsen expressed little surprise, saying what she might choose to say was her business.

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