Tex Edwards - man with a mission

Tex Edwards, director of Econet Wireless New Zealand (EWNZ) plans to build New Zealand's third cellular phone network despite the worldwide economic downturn and the slump in telco stocks, or perhaps because of it.

Tex Edwards, director of Econet Wireless New Zealand (EWNZ) plans to build New Zealand's third cellular phone network despite the worldwide economic downturn and the slump in telco stocks, or perhaps because of it.

"There's a fundamental difference between having to change your underarm deodorant because you paid too much for an acquisition, to buying the world's cheapest spectrum and every supplier beats a path to your door with half-price base stations, quarter-price switches that they can't sell to anybody else," says Edwards who can certainly talk the talk. Whether he can walk the walk and deliver a new GSM network to New Zealand consumers is something that hinges on the government's new telecommunications bill.

"Once government changed the regulatory regime we could build a business case that includes rolling out to the country."

Edwards lobbied hard at the select committee that was reviewing the new telecommunications bill. He wanted to see national roaming introduced - something that was recommended in the telecommunications inquiry but initially rejected by the government. Roaming allows customers on one cellular network, in this case EWNZ customers, to switch to another network when they pass beyond the reaches of their supplier. This means EWNZ will get access to a national network, Vodafone's, immediately on launch.

"The government has said that wireless internet networks are to the country what railways were a hundred years ago, this is a really important piece of the infrastructure."

Edwards says New Zealand is unique in many respects.

"You have to understand that New Zealand is the only country in the world with one GSM network and where there's no uniform technology competition. It's that lack that excites us. The GSM market will become more competitive than the other market."

By that he of course means Telecom's mobile network, which is based on rival technology in the form of TDMA and its 2.5G successor, CDMA.

Edwards also describes New Zealand as a niche market, something that Econet Wireless International looks for.

"It's niche in the respect that large companies have to be in China. They don't have to be in New Zealand. We can't compete in China with the likes of AT&T so we come here where there's cheap spectrum, high penetration rates and a lot of potential."

As for the future - expect Econet Wireless to keep pace with the new technology.

"Absolutely - although nobody announces 3G plans anymore because it's got such bad global press."

EWNZ can compete with the likes of Clear and TelstraSaturn as well as Telecom and Vodafone with the 3G spectrum it is leasing through its partnership with the Hautaki Charitable Trust.

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