Ihug not yet in bed with Walker

Reports that Ihug has signed a deal to resell Walker Wireless services appear to be somewhat premature.

Ihug director Tim Wood says recent reports in another publication that they had agreed to resell Walker's high-speed wireless service as part of its business offerings are incorrect.

Ihug and Walker have been discussing a potential business deal for months, but Wood says his company has no agreement with Walker: "They've been a bit quick off the mark. It's annoying. The intention is possibly there to sell their stuff but there are other options," he says, noting Walker competitor Radionet's infusion of capital this week.

Ihug's Ultra wireless service, which is considerably cheaper than the Walker offering, only operates downstream and depends on Telecom's network for a return path.

Wireless services that undercut Telecom's network rates are blossoming this year, and Wood says Telecom's failure to offer a better wholesaling structure for access to its network "has brought about the situation where you've got Telstra Saturn building their own network and everyone else going around them."

But Wood says that with Walker, Radionet and Clear Communications now all plying public 2.4GHz spectrum "it's going to get busy - this spread-spectrum stuff is limited. As a product I don't know whether it's got a long lifespan."

Wood says Ihug is also experimenting with a wireless return path.

"We've been working on a few options. We could do one now with the Marconi stuff [like that used by Clear] but it's not that cost-effective. There are other bands and frequencies that we could use. Obviously we're bidding for cellular stuff at the moment, and that can do a variety of things as well."

Meanwhile, Wood says that with the backing of a TV marketing campaign, Ultra sales are "going really well - too well if anything. We got caught on the hop and didn't have our warehouse set for the volume initially. When we did that deal for our customers we got 2000 sign-ups in a week."

The terrestrial version of Ultra, presently only available to Aucklander customers, will be launched in Christchurch at the end of this month, using a transmitter site licensed from the TVNZ subsidiary BCL. Hamilton and Wellington will follow.

About 40% of new Ultra business is going to Auckland, with the remainder going to the regions, where access to Telecom's JetStream DSL service is scare.

Wood admits customers on the DBS (satellite) version of the service are currently not getting as good a service as terrestrial users.

"Until we widen up that carrier, people on the DBS service aren't getting quite the signal strength they could. It stays locked most of the time, but the strength of the footprint is different in different parts of the country. When the carrier's widened, it'll have to be snowing to knock it out."

The DBS version of Ultra has just been launched in Australia, on a different satellite to that serving New Zealand. Wood says 400 to 500 customers have signed up in the first week.

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