Gloves off in broadband rumble

Commercial reality always struck me as an oxymoron, and never more so than when one government-owned body tries to block the commercial rollout of a competitor by questioning another government body's decision-making capability.

Commercial reality always struck me as an oxymoron, and never more so than when one government-owned body tries to block the commercial rollout of a competitor by questioning another government body's decision-making capability.

I had such high hopes for BCL. I really did. A national network that extends beyond the reach of Telecom's. Wireless links with an upgrade to data capability being relatively straightforward. Owned by government, so a network by the people for the people, BCL declared itself to be uninterested in the retail end of things, preferring only to wholesale its services to any and all who would be interested. It would operate without bias or prejudice. If I could put together a good enough business model for selling bandwidth to my neighbours and approached BCL with a strategic case, it would look at me in much the same light it would any other player in the market.

So far BCL has made one major partnership deal public. It's teamed up with Telecom. The rest of the market is still waiting to hear back.

Telecom was competing with BCL for a major commercial market -- the Fonterra plan to roll out broadband connectivity to farmers. Initially the plan was developed in the days before Project Probe, before Telecom rediscovered the farming community, before Walker Wireless and UCC and half a dozen electricity companies jumped into the fray. BCL, it is rumoured, had actually pulled slightly ahead in Fonterra's affections, much to the dismay of Telecom.

Eventually, however, the jostle became pointless -- Telecom and BCL decided to join forces to go after not only the Fonterra market but also the Project Probe cash. So far, the consortium has lost out to Walker Wireless on all three regions that have made a decision on Probe funding.

Now, it seems, the gloves are off. BCL has applied for a judicial review of the licences Walker Wireless bought at the government's spectrum auction to see if the service Walker Wireless plans to run will interfere with BCL's neighbouring spectrum lots. BCL hasn't said what evidence it has of interference but, yes, if there is a problem then it needs to be sorted out. But a judicial review? That does not speak well of BCL's intent.

Judicial reviews take time, and Walker Wireless is on a tight time frame to implement a service in the three regions it has won. Surely a better approach would have been through the Ministry of Economic Development, which runs the spectrum auctions, to question whether or not the lots should have been sold without caveats concerning which services can be run over them. Apparently the telecommunications commissioner doesn't have jurisdiction over this area, but really don't you think he should?

The biggest question of all is: just what impact will all this have on the remaining Probe regional tenders? Will Amos Aked Swift, the consultancy given the job of selecting the winners for the rest of the country, be swayed by possible legal action, delays, potential degradation of service and any other questions that come to light?

From what little I've read about the two technologies involved, Walker Wireless's time division duplexing (TDD) and BCL's frequency division duplexing (FDD), there is a potential for interference if two systems are run without reference to the other. Careful design can minimise any such problem. Surely that would be a better way forward than resorting immediately to the courts? For more on both technologies, have a look here.

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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