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Hard and Fast

Holiday mode Redux

By Antonios Karantze, in , posted: 5-Apr-2010 13:40

Over the the christmas break in 2009/10, I took the opportunity to buy a Telecom Prepay Mobile Data stick, running on the new XT network, and used it while away on holiday at the beach. Modern lifestyle means it can be very hard to be away from what you get used to: instant access to information, banking, email. and even sometimes just filling in quiet time when it's just too hot to go outside (and to avoid the other great holiday mode behaviour. eating!)

I also compared coverage with the Vodafone 3G network, which has the benefit (or curse) of being able to fallback to GSM/GPRS mode. In that review, I found the Vodafone network wanting.

This Easter break, we took the opportunity to have another beach break, this time in the Coromandel (near Hot Water Beach), and I have availed of modern technology during the high noon heat. The township I'm in is small but well formed, some of the houses look to be worth staggering amounts (especially those with walks down to the beachfront), and it has been genuinely gratifying to see people out camping and benefitting from the facilities.

The campsite we're at suffers power failure like clockwork between 7 and 9pm, when the draw is high. Water pressure falls to a trickle around 4pm. The general store reminds me of NZ in the late 70's (pile stock high, sell straight from the box), and some of the buildings reflect the building glory of that era (shades of brown everywhere).

But the township also has wide area WIFI Coverage (really) at $8/hr at not so bad speeds, spread across a area around 1 square kilometre, run by a group of shops on behalf of the community and visitors to the area. Vodafone's coverage and speed is good, but my gadgets fallback to 2G far too much for me.

Telecom's XT coverage is brilliant, with HSDPA readily available. Not bad for a coastal town with few residents.

imageThis got me thinking about the pace of change in this country, and how telco is evolving as a whole. In my first role at Telecom (1996), the manager at the time told me how 'every year since 1987' had been the year of Mobile Data, the next big coming thing for the industry (1987 being the year Telecom rolled out the AMPS network - target forecast 50k subs by 1995). It really took the launch and settling of GPRS - 2003 - and widespread launch of 3G -2005 - along with the iPhone - 2007 - before anyone could really say that Mobile Data was here to stay.

But it is, and Telstra's model for Next G - go far, go fast, go deep - shows exactly what you can do if you build a high-quality mobile network. Too bad it's data pricing can't compare with a $35/month DSL connection. Mobility still enjoys a premium - for now - but the relentless downward pressure from government, consumers, competitors and so on, means this business is changing just as the huge pressure in fixed calling dropped prices to 'irrelevant' status (compared to mobile).

So Telecom suffered unforgiveable failures with XT, and is now running ads in the papers of photogenic staff who lived through that period (although Chris Q really looks just over it). So Mr Hamburger has stopped the Florida commute, and maybe a local will be appointed to take ownership of the line. The network is there, it's running. and it's still performing well.

That mobile network failures can take this much media attention shows exactly how important Telecom - STILL - is to this country. The difference: they are getting over the introduction and settling of new technology (just wait till the IP Voice services start rolling out), and just getting into the game for the next 10 years.

Where's everyone else?

Other related posts:
2Degrees prepay price change
Consolidation (“and then there were fewer”)
Introducing the Hot New Social Network (updated!)

Comment by sbiddle, on 5-Apr-2010 14:24

How can you possibly say GPRS fallback it a curse? That's a key feature of selling a network that works!

Comment by Paul Brislen, on 5-Apr-2010 16:11

Also, what type of device were you using? were you in 900 coverage with a 900 device? Cheers Paul

Comment by freitasm, on 5-Apr-2010 16:41

Paul, the 900MHz 3G network will be Vodafone's downfall...

"What type of device were you using?"
"Oh, I have an iPhone. When I bought it Vodafone didn't tell me it didn't do 3G everywhere"

"What type of device were you using?"
"Oh, do you mean I have to know technical stuff before buying a device from Vodafone?"

"What type of device were you using?"
"Oh, do you mean I have to buy different devices depending on where I want to use it on Vodafone?"

Comment by allan, on 5-Apr-2010 17:28

Been in Turangi with a Telecom prepaid T-Stick. Worked just fine.

Comment by Paul Brislen, on 5-Apr-2010 19:13

So user education is a downfall... I don't think that's likely. Customers aren't as stupid as that they understand the difference between buying a device that works in one place and one that works somewhere else. Half our range is 3G Extend capable. In those areas where 3G Extend is the main network in operation we sell more 3G Extend phones because (and I know this will amaze you, Mauricio) we market them as such and customers get that. Having a 900MHz network meant we could roll out 3G to 97% of the population in a relatively short space of time. It's more effective than 2100 in rural/remote areas and it works well in the lead up to LTE. I note the only other 3G GSM network in the land also uses a split network - 2100/850. I presume you believe they're also doomed? Cheers Paul

Comment by Michael, on 5-Apr-2010 20:01

Pretty simple answer to that Paul. Telecom's marketing is quite simple. Everything they sell under the XT brand is compatible with their 850Mhz nationwide network at the very least, and will work at 3G speeds almost everywhere.
With Vodafone, it's pretty simple to get confused between '3G' and '3G extend', if you don't know the technical details. People expect to be able to take their '3G' device to Coromandel, and it just doesn't work.
All that being said, I think those users likely to make use of high-speed data are technically inclined enough to do their research before buying. Demand for Mobile Broadband seems largely limited to the type of people that'd read Geekzone, and corporations.
I think the main thing freitasm was getting at was the iPhone's connectivity. Having your flagship device only work properly in the major cities is not great for marketing.

Comment by freitasm, on 5-Apr-2010 20:48

Paul, Telecom XT sell 850/2100MHz devices. Their network is, for all effects, 850MHz - wherever there's 2100MHz there will be 850MHz. The end result is that regardless of network configuration, buying a device from Telecom will see it working anywhere in their network.

Buying a device from Vodafone on the other hand means that you have to decide which device to buy, depending on location. Some may grok it, but how many times we read about some people buying iPhones to find out later that they won't be doing "3G Extended"? Many times if you ask me. You think customers are being educated, but reality is the Vodafone-branded third-party owned stores are just selling things, and not spending too much time explaining things.

Comment by nzsouthernman, on 5-Apr-2010 23:14

Paul, Mauricio et all - this is exactly what's wrong with mobile *everything* in NZ - the telco's do what the hell they want and then bring in devices that aren't necessarily compatible with even their own networks.

I'd love to see a situation where either

a) all devices that are sold in NZ are compatible with all mobile networks. ie basic phones will work 2g/3g regardless of who's SIM you stick into it, and smartphones will work on any 3G network regardless of the SIM as well


b) all the telcos select a network type/freq and all use the same.

What either of these will do for us the customer is give us the ability to choose our telco on what they can offer us in service, plans and billing costs.  We won't need to think "oh, will this device work outside the main centers where 3Ge isn't available".  We'll be able to pick the best/nicest/cheapest (if that's important) telco and stop worrying. Then we can roam to different networks if TC doesn't have coverage and VF does in a location.  Like going overseas. Works for other countries, why can't it work here?

This'll never happen of course. I'm just venting. /rant

Comment by sbiddle, on 6-Apr-2010 07:47


That's just not possible.

A) Can't happen (yet) due to technical limitations - building a chipset that handled every UMTS band wasn't possible. This issue has been resolved and we now have UMTS chipsets that do 850, 900 and 2100 and I'd expect handsets in the not too dustant future.

B) Can't happen due to the simple issue of spectrum management. It's just not possible for 3 networks to all use the 850Mhz or 900MHz bands to deploy nationwide 3G and GSM networks.

Comment by Paul Brislen, on 6-Apr-2010 13:01

Odd... I posted a reply this morning but it's not shown up. These issues aren't uncommon around the world. We have multi-chipsets because there's a demand for it. I honestly don't think most customers have a problem understanding that there are two frequencies and that if you operate in an area that uses the new one, you'll need a phone that also uses that frequency. Does it complicate things? I suppose so, but that's not necessarily a show-stopper. If you're suggesting we stop selling the iPhone I imagine that won't go down too well with Marketing. ;-) Paul

Comment by freitasm, on 6-Apr-2010 16:26

I didn't suggest anything like that. My comments are just what is written there: some people don't understand this whole "band" thing and just want something that "works". Some get disappointed when they find out their preferred handset is not using 100% of what Vodafone offers. That's all.

Author's note by antoniosk, on 6-Apr-2010 21:01

Wow.... debate provoked then.

I've been travelling today - from Coromandel back to Wellington. Along the way I passed through several apparently afluent towns that had a good trade (for a Tuesday) of passing Kiwi's and foreign travellers. In nearly all the towns both mine (and my wife's) Voda 3G devices stayed solidly on GSM - there was no 3G in sight. XT in the meantime... well you get the picture.

I caught up with this debate using a mobile gadget on GPRS - slowly, but I talked about it with my wife, and relayed some of the comments people made here. She is not a techie by any stretch - that's one of the few things I'm good for apparently

She didn't get the 2G/3G bit, and didn't care. She DID get that the difference was slow dial-up vs medium-grade Broadband - which meant that whether on Blackberry (attachments are very popular on this gadget now it supports them well), iPhone or using a laptop with a Data stick.

She DID get that Mobile Broadband is mainstream, and I agree. Six years ago it was the preserve of a few dedicated folk making it work, and the pioneers who helped shake it out. Today it's not geeky - she gets what it does and how much it costs. She get's the accounting rationale why (scarce system resource, yield management, market education etc).

But as she points out, this isn't 20, 15 or 5 years ago. Telephony, Internet and Mobile is a UTILITY, like electricity or gas. People expect it to be there, and pay their bill to have it there.

They don't expect to have low-pressure and high-pressure gas. They don't expect electricity at 110 or 220v.

I concur. Mobile devices are hugely personal to people, mobile rateplans are not. The premium for mobility in the 1st and 2nd world has largely gone, to be replaced with reliability and competition for my wallet share. Even in parts of the 3rd world the innovation in mobile is high, spurred by lack of alternatives and an understanding of the economy (most people can only pay 1c/minute).

I like this debate.... we didnt drown under a wave of chocolate!

antoniosk's profile

Antonios Karantze
New Zealand


Antonios has been actively employed in the IT & Technology sector since 1991, and has worked on many commercials projects and products in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom. Working in product or actively managing programmes of work, he has always focused on building for the end customer, and not just promoting new technologies. Industry experience includes all telecommunications areas for business and private customers, private insurance, loyalty, media, energy and gambling. 

Since 2013, he has been involved with the development and launch of many popular smartphone applications in New Zealand, including

- TAB Mobile
- AMI & State Insurance digital experience
- Fly Buys
- Newshub for web and app
- Genesis Energy & Energy Online
- MyACC for Business

Genuinely passionate about technologies, internet and computing in general, he lives in the city he was born in - Wellington, New Zealand, the creative heart of hub of digital sector for the country.