The race to build New Zealand's first Wideband CDMA (W-CDMA) cellular network is on with Vodafone announcing plans yesterday to have its W-CDMA network up and running by the beginning of 2005.
As Computerworld Online reported yesterday (see Vodafone to build 3G network in New Zealand), Vodafone plans trials of the service within the next six months with a progressive roll-out focusing on the main urban centres within the next 18 months, according to managing director Tim Miles.
"W-CDMA 3G is not a stand-alone technology – it complements 2G. Subscribers can therefore take advantage of the benefits that 3G brings, while also having access to GSM wherever 3G coverage is not available."
TelstraClear has put out a request for proposals (RFP) for the construction of its W-CDMA network, which chief executive Rosemary Howard says will be operational by the end of next year.
"We were there first on this one, which we're always pleased about. Vodafone is playing catch up and that's great because it means there are two of us playing and that means there's going to be competition for customers."
Howard believes TelstraClear and Vodafone both have the advantage over Telecom with the move to 3G at this stage.
"It's obvious who the two leading contenders are and ... I think someone else has been left behind. It's great to see New Zealand seeing the benefits of this stuff sooner."
However Telecom's mobile general manager for Kevin Kenrick says it is the other two telcos that are playing catch-up.
"We're finding that our technology, particularly in the business market, is something the others would want to play catch-up with."
Telecom's network, which runs on a different CDMA variant, CDMA 1xRTT, allows users speeds of up to 155Kbit/s. W-CDMA is expected to offer service at around 150-200Kbit/s and have a top theoretical speed of 384Kbit/s. Users on Vodafone's GPRS network typically see speeds of around 40 to 50Kbit/s.
Kenrick says Telecom already has a national network in place and while the other telcos are talking about providing 3G service in some urban centres by the end of next year, Telecom's CDMA 1x network already reaches into the heartland of New Zealand.
"The rural heartland is a very big part of New Zealand society so I think that poses a challenge for those that wish to only serve the needs of those in CBD areas."
As for the future, Telecom's deal with Hutchison in Australia over its 3G network, which also uses W-CDMA, is only one possible path Telecom could take into the higher-speed world.
"We're spoilt for choice right now. We're the guys with the superior mobile network in the country. We've got an alliance relationship with the global 3G leader in Hutchison and there's also the option we may wish to explore in terms of wireless LAN hotspots."
Kenrick says Telecom will weigh up what customer demand there is before making any commitment technology-wise.
Vodafone will sell multi-mode phones that can automatically switch between GSM, GPRS and W-CDMA. Users will be able to keep their existing number and prefix by simply swapping SIM cards from their existing phone to a new one.
TelstraClear is also hoping to take advantage of its control of the application layer - Howard says the company is looking to offer customers one service across fixed and wireless platforms.
"The one service and application layer, the one experience. That's what we're moving towards."