That's right, the "cosy duopoly" of Telecom and Vodafone has been rudely shaken out of bed by the first real threat to their control of the mobile phone market.
The story so far: Telecom and Vodafone have been at war since Vodafone bought BellSouth's New Zealand operation. Vodafone runs a GSM network, the world's most popular cellphone standard, while Telecom opted first for AMPS, which was rubbish, then for the digital version, D-AMPS, then switched to TDMA, which is much better, but only as good as GSM. Both networks are now launching their new higher-speed 2.5G networks, GPRS and CDMA. I could tell you what the abbreviations stand for but, really, why bother? They're both faster than the old ones.
So while we've had competition between the networks, we've never really had competition, if you know what I mean. You couldn't take your expensive new Telecom cellphone into a Vodafone store and say "Sign me up my good man," because your phone wouldn't work on the competing network, and vice versa. This, along with an inability to take your number with you, has meant very little "churn" -- an industry term for customers swapping networks.
That in turn has meant little pressure on the networks to cut prices for calls. Instead, they have tended to add in functionality or promote extra services on top of the basic call price. Think of it as two entirely separate networks serving separate markets.
Now, out of the blue, comes Econet Wireless New Zealand with plans to build its own GSM network to compete with Vodafone, and all bets are off.
Can't be done, you say. Too expensive, you cry, and you'd be right. Why on earth would any telco come to New Zealand to set up in competition with the largest GSM provider on the planet? It would cost a fortune and it would take years before you made a profit, if ever.
Fortunately for Econet, it doesn't have to do that.
The newly minted Telecommunications Bill, with its adjacent recommendations from the select committee, will come into force later this year. That paves the way for the implementation of the new regime, which includes three very important changes to the way mobile telcos do business.
The first is number portability -- if you switch from one carrier to the other you get to keep your number, prefix and all. Radical idea, I know, but a great one. It's working so well in Australia that all the telcos hate it. They complained and bitched and moaned about it being introduced, then said they couldn't make it work when 20% of their customers went into local offices on the first day to switch networks. That's a huge number of dissatisfied customers who were basically only using the provider because they had to.
We're getting that so that will be fun to watch. Buy your popcorn now.
The second thing is co-location of cell sites. This is good on so many fronts. It means we should have fewer double-ups whereby Telecom and Vodafone have to build separate cell towers right next to each other (there are only so many primary schools in New Zealand, after all) to service an area. This will make it easier for Econet as it doesn't have to get resource consent for new towers.
The last thing is the killer. It is the amendment Econet's boss really pushed for. Without it he couldn't have got the backing to set up in New Zealand. It's national roaming. This means if you're on one network and you travel beyond its reach, your provider will be able to switch you neatly over to another network until you come back into range.
All Econet has to do is wire up the major centres and sign a deal with Vodafone to gain access to its network at wholesale rates and it'll have a nationwide network.
This time next year it will, allegedly, be all systems go, so stand by for the fun and games.
NZ to get third cellular network - IDGNet
Tex Edwards - man with a mission - IDGNet
And a couple of stories from across the ditch about how not to run a cellular phone company.
Carriers hold up number switch - The Australian
Mobile switch crashes system - The Australian
Windows XP, ME and IIS
I'll try to keep this one short after that tome.
Microsoft has sold its first Windows XP system. By virtue of our position on the date line, Hamilton-based The PC Company sold the world's first system to an All Black. This caused some consternation among US readers who didn't know what the All Blacks were, although they were quickly and efficiently flamed by those in the know, whose numbers are surprisingly legion.
Still, PC Company boss Colin Brown will be pleased. The story was carried on a number of major news sites around the world.
Windows ME, meanwhile, came under fire for its recovery capability. ME is aimed at the home user market and comes with a handy utility that allows you to restore your factory settings, if you want, in the event of an unfortunate download or upgrade.
Unfortunately, this means if you get a virus, manage to get rid of it and then crash your machine, using the restore function will give you the virus again.
Microsoft has acknowledged this unfortunate twist in what is a useful piece of functionality and its website has some hints to try to get round it.
And speaking of getting round it, Microsoft's run of bad publicity over security holes in its Internet Information Server (IIS) systems continues.
After the Code Red and Nimda viruses took advantage of the servers and dragged internet traffic into a black hole, US research company Gartner Group is recommending companies dump IIS altogether.
It's enough to make you forget the whole Department of Justice thing entirely.
World's first XP system sold - Slashdot
All Black gets first XP PC - The Register
Gartner to IS managers: Drop IIS - IDGNet
Telecom whines about DSL
Stuff carried a story this week about how Telecom isn't happy that only 21,000 customers have taken up its broadband DSL offering JetStream. Apparently that's only 2% of the potential customer base and Telecom is less than impressed.
"It's hard work providing broadband in low density markets," says Simon Moutter, Telecom's network general manager at a briefing held in Wellington earlier this week.
I was invited to attend and would have enjoyed talking regulatory regimes and the like with Telecom, but sadly being on a daily deadline means missing out on such things.
It also, apparently, means getting the short end of the stick when it comes to talking to Telecom people. I haven't been allowed to talk to Moutter, or to any other Telecom person since the briefing and have had to make do with a brief written statement on the matter. I was curious as to why Telecom doesn't address the issue of pricing, but according to the statement Telecom is the cheapest and fastest provider of DSL in the entire OECD.
Ernie Newman, chief executive of the Telecommunications Users Association (TUANZ), tells me the report says Telecom is the most expensive of the DSL providers in the OECD. Apparently, Telecom's pricing structure is different to everyone else's and makes it difficult to compare them properly.
Telecom's model is per-megabyte with extra fees if you exceed your monthly limit.
The statement goes on to say that actually the take up of DSL is quite good -- over 400% increase this year and accelerating. So what's the problem? Either Stuff has beaten up the story or Telecom is trying to eat its cake and have it too.
Users on the DSL mailing list are also of the opinion that Telecom's pricing is the prime suspect in the allegedly slow take-up. Excess charges per megabyte of traffic is one issue, as is the difference between domestic traffic and offshore traffic. So what's to be done? There's no real competition in the home user market for a cable-based service as of yet and no sign of it in the near future. TelstraSaturn will offer its own broadband initiative in the three main centres in the coming months so long as the funding holds out, while Ihug has its satellite-based service,
weather permitting, but for the hard-out, full-speed-ahead, high-speed-or-damned user there's really only Telecom. It's their party and they'll cry if they want to.
Pricing blamed for slow DSL uptake - IDGNet
The Stuff story - judge for yourself but be in quick before they archive it
and try to make you pay to read it.
Users slow to adopt broadband - Stuff