A third cellular network will be launched in New Zealand following the Hautaki Charitable Trust signing a deal with Econet Wireless International (EWI).
Hautaki owns the rights to one 15MHz block of third generation (3G) spectrum, which it bought in last year's spectrum auction. The block was put aside for development by a "pan-Maori trust" and was one of four 15MHz blocks on sale. The trust purchased the block for 95% of the average cost of the three other blocks. The other blocks were sold to Telecom and TelstraSaturn, with Clear and Vodafone splitting the remaining block between them.
While 3G services aren't yet being rolled out in New Zealand, Hautaki has teamed up with EWI to create Econet Wireless New Zealand (EWNZ).
EWI acquired a block of second generation (2G) spectrum slots by buying mystery-bidder Northelia earlier this year. Northelia, set up by Stuart Beadle, bought the spectrum for around $10 million but was in turn sold by Beadle in March this year.
Now a deal has been struck which will allow EWNZ to build a new network in direct competition to those provided by Telecom and Vodafone. The Hautaki Trust will lease the 3G spectrum rights to EWNZ and has the right to buy a 30% share in EWNZ.
"We hope to be making calls on our own network in a year's time," says EWNZ director Tex Edwards, an ex-pat who has lived in London for the past 12 years, but who is now back in New Zealand.
The new network takes advantage of the recent select committee report into the Telecommunications Bill which government hopes to pass into law later this year. The bill will mandate national roaming and cell site co-location, two things Edwards says are vital to competing with the incumbents.
"We'll set up in the main centres and offer roaming to the other centres on any other GSM network."
Only Vodafone offers a GSM network in New Zealand at the moment and it is in the throes of upgrading its customer base to the so-called 2.5G network, GPRS (general packet radio services) which offers faster speeds for data delivery. Telecom offers a similar 2.5G network but one that uses a different technology - CDMA (code division multiple access).
Edwards says the delay in announcing the partnership deal was for the most part due to the draft version of the bill not including the clause on roaming between networks - once that was included he could sign off on the deal.