In Australia, meanwhile, the battle has been enlivened by Hutchison and its "3" campaign, the name a tilt to 3G user sensibilities.
The mobile market in Australia is somewhat different to New Zealand. Vodafone and Optus use GSM networks while Telstra uses CDMA. Here, of course, the two players have each chosen a different technology path, so customer churn between the two networks is an altogether more difficult proposition. Forget number portability; if you've got an 025 or 027 number, you're on Telecom.
Hutchison, meanwhile, has launched through mobile operator Orange what it calls a third-generation network in the form of wideband CDMA, an advanced version of Telecom's own CDMA 1x variety (which is marketed as Mobile JetStream). Wideband CDMA is capable of a somewhat higher speed than CDMA 1x, which is itself somewhat faster than Vodafone's GPRS network.
Of note is that Telecom owns a chunk of Hutchison Australia, so we can expect to see some 3 the services rolled out here without much delay.
While the service 3 provides isn't that different to the Vodafone Live set of multimedia offerings, with its weather maps, picture-capable phones and full colour screens with better speakers for games, it also offers videophone capability. This has always been the holy grail of mobile telecommunications. Is the service worthwhile? Well, currently you can only videophone someone else with a 3 phone -- and you'd better have your credit card handy, because it costs $A0.50c for 30 seconds. Oh, and the picture doesn't quite synch with the sound. And you feel somewhat gormless while you're doing it.
But the rest of 3's pricing is certainly turning heads, and upsetting rivals. Hutchison has priced 3 at roughly half the price of competing services. For $A99 a month users get 1000 minutes of talk time and the first 10 minutes of any call to other Hutchison customers are free. SMS messages cost 15 cents each, MMS 25c and video messages 50c. Data traffic runs at 1c per kilobyte up 5MB, then it's half a cent per KB.
The handsets are also cheap: around $A400 to $A500 each.
Optus and Vodafone have already said, forget it, we're not playing that game. But you have to wonder who will blink first. Can Hutchison sustain such a rate for long? Can the other networks afford to see 3 steal the march on their customer base? Vodafone Australia has yet to launch Vodafone Live, recently kicked off here, and if it wants to be aggressive in its campaign it will need to go head to head with 3.
But do we care that you can send photo messages to other users? I remain sceptical. I just don't think kids will get their way and receive a camera-capable phone for Christmas. It's one thing to shell out $300 or $400 but something else entirely to fork over $1000 or more. Both Telecom and Vodafone handsets are reaching for the upper limits: the Vodafone Live handset retails for around $900 while Telecom doesn't yet have a phone with a colour screen and camera built in. If anything, the billboard ads I've seen for Go 27 appear to be using a GSM phone, but that might just be my bad eyesight.
As for content, Telecom and Vodafone have both made quite a thing about branding their services under a portal. As an end user I have to say: I don't care. I don't care if Telecom's news for its Xtra Mobile Services comes from XtraMSN, the Herald or Nzoom, and that Vodafone's news comes from Stuff. For years my Palm has carried news for me, albeit in a disconnected manner. AvantGo is a service that reshapes web news stories for a handheld device and I'm glad to see both Telecom and Vodafone are doing this.
However, where AvantGo really works is in allowing me to chose my news sources. Currently neither mobile company allows this: you get what you're given. I hope this changes soon. I want to choose my own news sources, thanks. Sports, technology, politics, international. Each has its own specialist providers and I would happily use the service more if I could select my provider.