New wireless products weeks away from Ihug

Ihug is to announce a revamped version of its high-speed wireless Internet service within weeks - and director Nick Wood is promising that both service and hardware will be cheaper. The new products will be aligned with the company's much-delayed digital TV service

Ihug is to announce a revamped version of its high-speed wireless Internet service within weeks - and director Nick Wood is promising that both service and hardware will be cheaper.

The new service will be based around PCI cards from one of two Korean vendors examined by Ihug, and will be aligned with the company's much-delayed digital TV service. TV customers will connect via Web-capable set-top boxes and computer users will have the option of either a PCI card or a stand-alone device that plugs into their PCs.

Last week, as Telecom launched its JetStream ADSL service, Ihug lowered the boom on the $70 flat-rate version of its StarNet service, which more than 1000 customers receive either from a Sky Tower transmitter or direct by satellite.

StarNet customers will now be limited to 2Gb of data downloaded per month and will have the choice of either paying 10 cents a megabyte over the limit or moving a corporate StarNet account, at $150 a month.

With the basic JetStream account offering 600Mb monthly and a fairly stiff 35 cents per megabyte over the limit, it seems that the mainstreaming of high-speed consumer Internet service has coincided with the demise - for now - of a flat-rate option for such service.

StarNet, which the company operates in Australia as SatNet, has been the subject of complaints in recent months. Computerworld understands local network routing issues are being addressed, along with outbound international bandwith. The crackdown on very heavy users seems to be part of the same process of knocking the service into shape now that ADSL has arrived.

"The service wasn't working how it was supposed to," Wood admits. "People were complaining about the speed, but we'd allocated as much as we were supposed to according to the formula. So we had start analysing what was going on, and one of our guys wrote a program that could look at the traffic volumes going to each customer on the fly.

"What became obvious was that the top 30 users were accounting for about 85% of the traffic. There were people doing 3.5Gb a day, which is effectively a half-megabit permanent link, which would be $6-10,000 a month if you were buying it from us or Telecom. People were using the consumer service for commercial purposes, basically."

Although some of the customer concerned are extremely unhappy, Wood says he expect most of them to stay with Ihug.

"I still think we're being awfully fair - 2Gb is a hell of a lot of traffic, especially compared to what Telecom's offering. And they can still go the next level up to one of our corporate products."

The arrival of Sky Television as a substantial shareholder in the company seems to have been partly responsible for the state of flux in Ihug's wireless strategy, as new product plans have been revised in light of the extra capital - and possible synergies with Sky - now available.

Wood promises that one area where Ihug has clearly fallen down on StarNet - installation and on-site service - will be improved with the revamp.

"When you're half-doing a product you haven't got the volume to hire a whole bunch of people to do the installation.

"Once we put the rocket behind this thing, the volume will go up, and the people will be there to support it. In Australia we've hired a professional team of people who do installations for other companies. In New Zealand we'll probably do the same."

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