How to instantly save up to 34 cents per litre off every litre of fuel in Wellington

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 13-Jan-2020 20:32

In 2019 the Commerce Commission spent millions of dollars on a study of the fuel market which was ordered by the
Government to look at issues surrounding rising fuel prices. Released in early December 2019, the report did nothing but show show how inept the Commerce Commission really is, and rather than focussing or trying to understand why fuel prices are set like they are, they instead focused on setting regulations in place to ensure that the wholesale fuel market would work efficiently, somehow believing this would drive down retail fuel prices.

It largely ignored the impact of the Auckland Regional fuel tax and how this tax is effectively being paid by all NZers. It also largely ignored how and why regional discounting is occuring. It could have talked about how fuel is being sold below cost in some regions of New Zealand, leading to inflated prices in other regions to recover these losses, but that barely got a mention.

It barely touched on the issue of discounting schemes such as AA Smartfuel and instant discounts at BP,  Z, Caltex and Mobil and how they inflate retail prices, nor did it mention how the AA profit from Smartfuel by licencing their name to the joint venture and receiving a share of the profits from retailers who pay to be part of the scheme.

The least the Commerce Commission could have done would have been to ask Aucklanders to thank the rest of the country for paying for their roads with the introduction of a 11.5c Auckland region fuel tax by transport Minister Phil Twyford. But it didn’t.

We've ended up with an intensely competitive retail fuel market with very slim retail margins that is relying on average pricing across the country in order to deliver returns. Those areas with super cheap petrol are effectively being subsidised by areas selling petrol at a higher price, which in turn averages out returns across the whole country. It's an incredibly intense job for those actually setting pricing for any of the big fuel companies.

The industry is so competitive that in November, Z Energy reported a net profit per litre of 3.5 cents per litre after tax for the first half of the 2020 financial year. That's an incredibly slim profit on something being sold for over $2 per litre.

But the Commerce Commission weren't interested in this. They weren't interested in the fact that big fuel companies have turned buying petrol into a game where you have to shop around for discounts, drive around putting $40 in each time to stack discounts, or even stand pumping gas from two different pumps. None of that interested them. They just took their millions and ran all while delivering a report that they were convinced would drive fuel prices down by regulating wholesale. It won't.

A key focus for Z Energy last year was to look at ways to differentiate themselves in an incredibly competitive retail market. One concept that came out of Z Energy was Sharetank. I talked about fuel companies turning buying fuel into a game - Sharetank is just that.

So what is Sharetank?

Sharetank allows Z customers using the Z app on their phone to prepay for fuel at the cheapest possible price within 30km of their location. It uses your phone's GPS location (which can't be fooled by spoofing apps - they thought of that) and looks at prices at every Z station within a 30km radius and allows you to prepay for up to 1000 litres of fuel at the cheapest price.

Right now you're probably thinking that's rather boring.. But wait. You probabably aren't understanding the potential way it can be used.

You can join a Sharetank group with up to 5 friends who do not need to be in the same city as you. This has meant that Sharetank has been a great way for people to effectively avoid paying the Auckland fuel tax.

Somebody (or a company even) who is say based in Rotorua where petrol has always been priced well below prices in Auckland or Wellington could prepay for petrol at the pump price in Rotorua and then others anywhere around the country simply scan use their app at the pump and receive petrol at the cheaper price. This can mean dicsounts of up to around 40 cents per litre.

It was a way for Z to maintain or even gain market share in areas where regional discounting wasn't occuring. They knew that people would play the game and then visit Z over other chains due to the discounts that Z could offer in regions where petrol wasn’t being discounted.

Right now in Wellington playing the game means you can have an instant saving of up to 34 cents per litre on fuel.

With the opening of Gull in Petone last week the price of fuel in the Wellington regional varies greatly. At the time of writing this 91 is currently being sold for 204.9 at Z Petone and 238.9 at Z sites in Wellington City including Taranaki St, Vivian St and Miramar. 95 is being sold for 218.9 at Z in Petone and 252.9 at those same City sites.

If you use the Z app anywhere within a 30km radius of Petone you can currently purchase fuel at the cheaper Petone price and then redeem that at a local Z site anywhere in the Wellington region where pricing is higher, meaning you can instantly save up to 34 cents per litre on fuel. There is no need to drive to Petone to save on fuel.

So how do I use it? It’s simple. Download the Z app to your phone and click on Sharetank. Select your preferred fuel type and then select how much you would like to pre purchase. You can maintain a balance of up to 1000 litres of fuel.

Once you’re done click on checkout. You’ll need to enter your credit card details and your purchase will be complete. Don’t forget to add your Airpoints or Fly Buys card number to earn points – it’s important to note that you will not get an additional 6 cents per litre “Pumped” discount off this price.


When you now go back to the Sharetank page in the app it’ll show your current balance of fuel. You can mantain a balance of multiple different fuel types – 91, 95 and diesel.


So now you’ve purchased your discount fuel, how do you redeem it? That’s dead simple as well. Simply drive to your nearest Z site and select the Sharetank option from the self service pump. If the Z site does not have a self service option you’ll need to head into the counter and tell them you want to redeem your Sharetank fuel.

After you’ve pressed the Sharetank button click the “Redeem Balance” option in the app and scan the QR code displayed on the screen of your phone. You can now fill up.



Once you hang up the pump the app will immediately be updated to reflect the new balance of your Sharetank account.

I disagree with the concept of Z turning buying fuel into a game, but when that game allows instant savings that are so significant even I’m willing to play.

With fuel prices being what they are in Wellington now, Sharetank means anybody in the Wellington region outside Petone will be within a 30km radius of Petone and will be able to purchase fuel at present for up to 34 cents per litre less than their local Z is selling fuel for. That’s winning in anybody’s books.

And as the Commerce Commission.. Well. Better luck next time. When you fail to understand how a market actually works you’re highly unlikely to be able to make changes to it.

GST changes hit imported goods from 1st December 2019

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 25-Nov-2019 08:00

A law change coming into effect from the 1st December 2019 will mean the end of GST free imports into New Zealand for consumers. The change may not however have the intended effect that many retailers wished for.

At present importing goods into New Zealand is governed by what can only be described as complex rules regarding GST, duty, Customs and MPI biosecurity screening processing fees. The simplification of these rules is a good thing, will mean importing goods will be a lot easier, and in what can only be described as an unintended side effect, in many cases will actually mean savings for end cunsumers

At present all goods imported into New Zealand are subject to GST and duty if it is applicable to the products, however the resources that would be spent to process every package entering the country and to collect GST and duty on it on it would be so significant that it would end up consuming a significant chunk of the actual revenue collected, so Customs will only collect GST and/or duty where the amount collected exceeds NZ$60, a figure known as a “de minimis”.

In the real world this means a threshold of $400 for most imported goods (excluding clothing and shoes) that are imported into the country. If goods are subject to duty such as shoes or clothes are imported, it means a threshold of $226.

As an example if you import $399 worth of goods (and it’s important to note that shipping costs are included in this amount) the GST amount that would be collected would be $59.85, which is below the de minimus meaning you will not be charged anything to import those goods.

If you import $400 worth of goods, the GST amount to be collected would be $60, which is above the de minimis, meaning you will need to pay GST on those goods. To cover the costs of processing and border security, processing fees of $55.71 will also be charged – made up on an an Import Entry Transaction Fee (IETF) of NZ$29.26 and an MPI biosecurity system entry levy of $26.45. This means a total of $515.71 on your $400 item.

For goods where duty can apply such as clothing and shoes, a threshold of $226 applies – $226 worth of goods would mean GST of $37.29 and duty of $22.60 for a total of $59.89 so you would pay nothing.

If you imported $227 worth of clothing or shoes you would be subject to GST of $37.46, duty of $22.70, and then IETF and MPI fees of $55.71 meaning you would need to pay a total of $342.87.

For many years retailers in New Zealand have lobbied the Government of the day claiming the current system is unfair, and that allowing people to import goods from overseas without paying GST and/or duty that was unfair and created an uneven polaying field. As online shopping has grown, particularly with goods purchased from overseas, GST revenue has been lost as products that would have been purchased locally have been purchased overseas GST free.

In 2015 the Government announced that GST would be applied to all digital services consumed in New Zealand, meaning that online services such as Netflix (which had previously paid no GST in New Zealand), now had to collect GST on behalf of the IRD. It was also announced that the existing GST thresholds for imported goods were under review with proposals to charge GST on all imports regardless of the value.

Many retailers jumped for joy when Revenue minister Stuart Nash announced in mid 2018 that GST charges would apply to all imported goods from October 1st 2019, and legislation detailing this was introduced into Parliament in December 2018. In June 2019 it was annouced the introduction of the scheme has been delayed until 1st December 2019 to allow overseas retailers time to register with IRD and impliment changes.

Looking at the Customs and IRD websites the changes look pretty simple and clear -

From 1 December 2019 overseas businesses will collect GST on goods valued $1000 or less. Customs will not collect duty or charge the Import Entry Transaction Fee on goods valued $1000 or less unless the goods are part of a large consignment. Processes for collecting GST and duty on consignments valued above $1000 do not change. This does not apply to tobacco and alcohol products - duty and GST are collected regardless of the value 

.. This sounds simple enough.. But the loopholes are glaringly obvious.

When to register for GST

You must register for GST if you carry out a taxable activity and:
•your turnover was $60,000 or more in the last 12 months or will be $60,000 or more in the next 12 months, or
•your prices include GST.

For many large retailers selling into New Zealand such as Amazon the rules are clear – they must register for GST and charge GST on all products they sell and ship to New Zealand based customers, with the exception of GST registered entitles in New Zealand.

Freight forwarding services such as YouShop are also covered by the law, meaning they are required to collect GST for all goods processed by them and forwarded on to customers in New Zealand.

For smaller businesses and retailers however the rules are also clear – if you don’t sell more than NZ$60,000 worth of goods to customers in New Zealand, you are under no obligation to register for GST nor charge GST to New Zealand based customers.

This means people who import goods from smaller retailers or individuals who sell under NZ$60,000 worth of goods into New Zealand will no longer pay any GST and/or duty on these imports providing the total shipment is under NZ$1000.

Customs assumes applicable GST has been paid for any goods with a value of under NZ$1000, and these will not be held or assessed by Customs.

Could goods be held up at the border because of this change?

No. New Zealand consumers will pay any required GST on goods that cost NZ$1,000 or less when they buy them. This means there is no need to hold these parcels at the border until GST is collected. However, all existing border security and biosecurity checks and rules still apply.

The current process for collecting GST and tariff duty at the border on parcels or consignments valued over NZ$1,000 will continue to apply. Customs will not collect GST on parcels or consignments (or low-value goods within a parcel or consignment) valued over NZ$1,000 if they receive evidence that the overseas supplier, marketplace or re-deliverer has already collected GST.

It’s pretty clear these changes are a mixed bag for consumers. Those who import goods from big name retailers or online trading sites such as Amazon or Aliexpress will find their purchases will be charged 15% GST that is collected by the retailer at the time of purchase, regardless of the value of the product(s).

For many consumers however the changes are a huge benefit – for those who import goods (including clothes and shoes) into the country from smaller retailers or wholesalers you will now no longer be charged any duty or GST on your imports providing you stay under the $1000 threshold.

For those who routinely purchased goods over $400 from a small retailer or wholesaler who is not GST registered, you will now pay nothing on your imports, whereas at present you have to pay GST, IETF and biosecurity fee, meaning a significant saving.

Exactly how much government revenue is lost due to the current $60 de minimis is open to debate – estimates put this figure between $80 million and $235 million per year.

Estimating the total foregone revenue on imported low-value goods relies on a number of assumptions, and estimates of the foregone revenue vary.  An estimate by Retail NZ, for example, places the total foregone revenue at $235 million a year.

In the 2015 discussion document, GST: Cross-border services, intangibles and goods, officials estimated the maximum potential foregone GST revenue for low-value imported goods was around $140 million a year.  This estimate was derived from survey and credit card spending information.
Since then, further work has been undertaken by officials using a mixed dataset that includes Customs’ sample data of goods coming across the border.  An estimate was calculated based on an assessment of the value of goods under the current de minimis.  This work conservatively estimates that the foregone GST revenue for the 2016 calendar year was around $80 million.  Assuming a foregone revenue growth rate of ten percent a year, the foregone revenue is projected to grow to $127 million by 2021.

Retail NZ pushed heavily for this law change because they saw retailers being on the back foot compared to overseas retailers who could sell products into New Zealand GST free. Hopefully they soon realise that this law change is no silver bullet, and that even with GST added the advantages and cost benefits of buying goods from overseas still exist – sometimes you have to be very careful what you wish for.

The scrapping of IETF and biosecurity fees on all imports under $1000 also means the cost of the processing of all goods now falls solely on those wholesalers and goods who purchase goods over $1000, rather than the current model of cost recovery also charging fees to individuals who imported goods under $1000.

It’s going to be very interesting to see a year from now how much additional revenue is collected by IRD, vs losses in revenue from individuals who will now no longer need to pay GST on their imported goods.

No Newshub and NIWA. Vodafone’s 5G network won’t interfere with your weather satellite images.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 2-Aug-2019 08:50

In what must rank as one of the most poorly researched mainstream news stories in recent times, Newshub last night told us on their 6pm news that Vodafone's soon to launch 5G network could cause problems for NIWA (New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) who might not be able to accurately predict weather because of potential interference with weather satellites.

The story was full of emotive sentences and paragraphs -

"Vodafone's 5G network concerns New Zealand meteorologists who say it could put lives at risk"

"New Zealand meteorologists are warning the new 5G phone network could affect their predictions - and put lives at risk."

"We do need to have very accurate forecasts if we want to give people the kind of heads up they need to make decisions to evacuate and things like that," says Nava Fedaeff from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA)."

"NIWA's forecasters are among a global cohort of scientists who are worried the frequency used by 5G will disturb the frequency used by one of the most important weather satellites. Essentially when the satellite looks down it's looking for water vapour, and it might pick up 5G instead, so there's interference," Fedaeff told Newshub."

"Mere months before the 5G rollout begins - and the next big storm rolls in."

The headlines and story as a whole can be summed up with one response.


It's FUD. Fake news. Scaremongering. Lies. Call it what you want - it is simply not true.

Earlier in 2019 media outlets around the world went crazy republishing a story warning of potential risk to weather forecasting with the introduction of 5G networks due to a frequency band that will be used for 5G networks in the future. Their claim was that use of this band for 5G networks could cause interference with weather satellites that detect water vapour in the atmosphere, something that's critical for accurate weather forecasting.

It's pretty clear neither Newshub nor NIWA bothered to fact check by asking anybody with even a basic understanding of radio spectrum (or technology as a whole) before running with this story.

5G networks will operate on multiple frequency bands, but the specific frequency band being used in New Zealand by Vodafone at launch has absolutely no ability to cause any of the issues that Newshub and NIWA are warning us of.

It should not be my job to educate a Crown Research Institute or media outlet about basics of technology, but since they're clearly unable to research the facts I figured somebody had to put it out there in a format hopefully the average person will understand so that they’re realise that weather forecasts are not going to be impacted by 5G in New Zealand.

Let’s start with with a very simple summary..

Vodafone's 5G network in New Zealand simply will NOT cause interference with weather forecasting. Not today, not tomorrow, not next year. Never. Ever. Period.


So why would people think it could?

Water vapour in the atmosphere can be detected from satellites in space due to the distinct signature it creates. Satellites with microwave sounders scan the surface of the earth looking for microwave radiation that is generated by water vapour in the atmposhere at a specific frequency.

Water vapour emits radiation at precisely 23.8 GHz, which can be detected by these satellites allowing the creation of weather maps which help in the creation of weather forecasts. To cause interference with the water vapour detection, a transmitter on the ground would need to be broadcasting exactly on this 23.8 GHz frequency to cause intererence.

Broadcasting on a frequency nearby will not cause any interference. It would need to be something very powerful using that exact frequency. There is nothing that currently uses this frequency in New Zealand, and due to the known risk of interfererence, there will never be anything that will use that frequency in New Zealand.

Here in New Zealand radio spectrum is managed by RSM (Radio Spectrum Management), part of MBIE (the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) who are responsible for the licencing of radio spectrum in New Zealand, and ensuring that licence holders comply with their licence regulations.

Vodafone New Zealand's 5G network that launches in December 2019 will be deployed in the 3.5 GHz band using 2 x 22 MHz blocks of paired spectrum that Vodafone acquired from TelstraClear when they purchased the company. This will allow them to run 2 x 20 MHz carriers in non contiguous blocks of spectrum in what is known as the n78 5G band.

This block of 3.5 GHz spectrum has remained unused by Vodafone since they purchased TelstraClear in 2012. In other parts of the 3.5GHz band a number of WiMAX networks still exist in New Zealand that actively use this frequency band.

So it's pretty clear that the 5G network Vodafone are launching in December simply cannot cause interference with weather satellites. The 3.5 GHz frequency band they are using is nowhere near the 23.8 GHz frequency used to detect water vapour in the atmosphere.

But what about the future?

It's true that around the world the 24 GHz and 28 GHz bands are key frequencies for 5G networks in what is known as mmWave (millimetre wave) bands. These frequencies are much higher than those used by existing 2G, 3G and 4G networks, and are what allow 5G to deliver Gigabit speeds because the amount of free spectrum in these blocks is simply not available in lower frequencies.

Here in New Zealand and around the world the 24 GHz frequency band is already used pretty extensively, and has been for a number of years. It cannot be used for 5G in New Zealand until existing management rights in that band expire.

24.0 GHz - 24.025 GHz is what is known as an ISM band (Industrial, Scientific, and Medical) and is controlled globally by ITU Radio Regulations. Like 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi frequencies that also use ISM bands, this block of spectrum can legally be used by anybody without the requirement for licencing across a large number of countries in the world. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of wireless links in New Zealand that use this block of spectrum.

Between 24.55 GHz and 25.39 GHz Vodafone and Kordia have management rights that allow them to use this spectrum for microwave links, with literally hundreds of these links used across New Zealand linking cellsites together. Management rights for this band expire in a few years, and it's probable that this block of spectrum will then be auctioned off for 5G networks in New Zealand by RSM.

There is no disputing that Interference at 23.8 GHz does have a theoretical potential to cause issues with water vapour detection from space, so like many countries in the world, the block of spectrum between 23.6 GHz and 24 GHz is reserved and can never be used in New Zealand. It is not used for existing microwave links and it will never be used for 5G.


Only frequencies above 24.55GHz will be used for 5G, and 5G networks in this frequency block will not interfere with a signal at 23.8GHz



Quite simply there is no chance of Vodafone's 5G network, nor any other 5G network in New Zealand having the ability to create havoc with water vapour detection from satellites impact any weather forecasting in New Zealand. The critical 23.8GHz frequency will not be used for 5G networks in New Zealand at any point in the future.

The fact that NIWA were willing to front on national TV spreading misinformation concerns me. In an Crown Research Institute full of scientists was there not a single person who could have explained any of this and discredited the misinformation rather than fronting of TV and continuing to perpetuate a false claim? Why did Newshub not bother to fact check their claim by checking with a radio engineer or RSM about the frequency allocations before they ran with the story?

Long gone are the good old days when Mark Jennings ran a newsroom lead the way with quality news rather than fake news.

Vodafone raises $5 roaming by 40% and scores own goal

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 6-Jun-2019 07:43

Vodafone New Zealand have announced that from the 11th July 2019 they are raising the price of their popular $5 Daily Roaming option from $5 per day to $7 per day, a 40% increase.

Unlike roaming packages with other providers, the $5 charge is not a package or plan as such, but merely an arbitary daily charge that allows Vodafone On Account customers to use their included plan voice minutes, SMS messages and mobile data while overseas.

Vodafone say -

We understand the disappointment. However in the five years since we launched Daily Roaming this is the first time we’ve put the price up despite the regular improvements. Although we've had to increase the cost, we're confident that Daily Roaming delivers exceptional value.

Since introduction, we’ve increased the destinations from 23 to over 100, roaming costs in some regions has increased, mobile data usage has tripled but costs have remained constant, plus there’s now more value for customers in our core plans used while roaming.

Mobile roaming is complex – nobody is denying that. Something many people will be unaware of is that mobile data has to be tunneled back from the network in the country you’re visiting back to your your home network, where it then passes through the core network so it can be rated and billed, and then heads back out across the Internet.

It’s for this reason that using data roaming while in Europe for example can lead to a poor customer experience due the fact your data has to travel from Europe to New Zealand which is around 310ms away on a 4G connection (based on optimal routing and allowing 50ms for the 4G layer) and then if the server on the Internet you’re connecting to is based within Europe another 260ms is added as it heads back to the Europe. 560ms in latency while browing the Internet or using an online service will result in noticeable sluggishness.

Costs for providing roaming services have increased as growing numbers of people have decided to roam, and more importantly as data usage while roaming has continued to increase. Dimensioning of links between Vodafone and their roaming hub as well as links between Vodafone and direct bi-lateral roaming partners have all increased.

None of this changes the fact however that actual roaming costs incurred by networks have been in decline for years - I can’t find another example of a network that has actually decided to increase roaming prices. This increase quite frankly looks like a money grab from Vodafone which will raise them several million dollars per year.

As somebody who spends a lot of time traveling overseas (I’ll spend somewhere between 50 and 60 days overseas this year), Vodafone’s $5 daily roaming has kept me a loyal customer despite the fact Vodafone New Zealand under the leadership of former Chief Executive Russell Stanners was like watching a slow motion train wreck. Their profits before people focus in recent years along with cutbacks in capital expenditure has seen aspects of their network such as their 4G coverage now appear very poor in comparison to Spark. Being contactable is important to me, and $5 roaming has been the one thing that has kept me as a customer.

The $2 increase in daily roaming charges isn’t going to break the bank for me. The $100 – $120 extra per year it would cost me to use the service is a pittance compared to the amount I will spend on travel this year. It is however a matter of principle, and will see me seriously look at my options when it comes to both my mobile provider in New Zealand, and whether I go back to making more significant use of local SIM cards when overseas.

What’s surprising about Vodafone’s claims that prices have increased because costs have increased is that their argument falls apart when you look at their Prepay roaming prices which are not increasing – and depending on your usage Prepay roaming prices are already significantly cheaper than using $5 Daily Roaming.

On Account users will now be paying $49 per week just for the privilege of being able to use their included plan minutes, SMS messages, and data while roaming. You’ll pay this $7 daily fee regardless of how much you use your mobile phone – if you don’t use your phone you won’t pay anything, but even if you only send a single TXT message or receive a 1 min phonecall, you’ll automatically now be stung $7 per day for the convenience.

With the Government expected to introduce GST on telecommunications services used overseas from 2020 (currently roaming is and always has been zero rated for GST), we’ll see this $7 increase to $8.05 per day. That’s a big price to pay for something that actually offers nothing at all.

Vodafone Prepay users have several options that see their roaming costs being significantly lower for the average user, and significantly the roaming prices for Prepay users are not increasing. Only want to use data while roaming? 1GB data valid for 7 days will cost you $15. Want some voice minutes and SMS messages thrown in with that? You can get 1GB data, 100 voice minutes (inbound and outbound) and 100 TXT messages for $19.

This usage represents a typical usage amount for a roaming user (who tends to use more data than they do while in NZ, but makes fewer voice calls). It means that a typical On Account user is now paying $49 per week for something that is available to Prepay users for $19.

I would love to pay $19 for a week of roaming on my On Account plan – the allowance on that plan meets my requirements, and it would be a significant saving from the $49 it’s now going to cost me being On Account.

That really just poses one question for Vodafone to answer – why do you think such a big difference is fair? And where is the "exceptional value” you’re claiming daily roaming offers? Right now I’m struggling to see it, and this change looks very much like an own goal to me.

Using PriceSpy to check for Boxing Day rip-offs

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 23-Dec-2018 22:50

Boxing Day is one of the biggest retail shopping days of the year in New Zealand. After a day of overeating on Christmas Day, New Zealanders rush out in their droves to the malls enduring traffic chaos and crowds all in the hope of picking up a bargain.

Big retailers advertise their “huge” Boxing Day sales and often promise big discounts…but how can you tell if you’re really getting a bargain?

If you’re after big ticket electronics items such as a TV, home theatre or audio equipment, cameras, or phones, the website can be a huge help. It is worth pointing out here I have no affiliation with PriceSpy other than being a user of their website.

PriceSpy is an online price comparison site that  collects pricing information from a number of online retailers in New Zealand. You can search for a product or model number and see current and historical pricing from a number of online retailers who stock the product.

By looking at this current and historical data you can not only see what other retailers are selling a product for, you can also see historical pricing of products to see what they’ve sold for and whether the advertised sale price is in fact a good deal.

Lets look at an example of a current high end TV. If you can’t quite afford an OLED TV, the Sony X9000F is my pick of high end LED panels. It’s a brilliant TV and recently has seen some fairly sharp pricing on the 65” model.

x9000f price comparison

The above screenshot shows pricing data from the above retailers along with pricing history of the TV. It shows the TV has dropped as low as $2,498 in late November.

By clicking on a retailer you can see their pricing history. As you can see retailer Heathcote Appliances sold the TV in late November for $2,499 but it currently retails there for $3,298

heathcotes x9000f pricing

This pricing history shows the tactics of retailers such as Noel Leeming who have a habit of inflating prices before big sales so that their discounts look better. It’s very likely Noel Leeming will come out on Boxing Day (as they always do) and offer a “big brands” sale which often sees somewhere in the vicinity of 25% off many big brands including Sony.

As you can see above, Noel Leeming currently sell the 65X9000F TV for $3,899 making them around $600 - $700 more expensive than direct competitors such as JB HiFi, Magness Benrow, Heathcote Appliances, and even the Sony Store itself.

This also shows that Noel Leeming sold the TV for as low as $2,586 in late November.

noel leeming x9000f pricing

Noel Leeming’s pricing strategy is similar on other products. The brilliant Sony KD55A8F OLED TV has quite a range of prices at present, with once again Noel Leeming being one of the most expensive. It also shows they had the cheapest historical price for this TV selling it for $2,998 in November.


A sale cannot be genuine and can fall foul of the Fair Trading Act if a product has not sold at the “was” price for a reasonable period of time beforehand – with that reasonable period of time considered to be around a month in the eyes of the Commerce Commission.

By hiking prices a little under a month out from Boxing Day it means Noel Leeming do not fall foul of the law, but it does mean that many of their “sale” prices can in fact  be pretty ordinary. You can tell from the above screenshot that Noel Leeming did exactly the same thing in early November leading up to their Black Friday in late November.

They may claim big percentage and or dollar discounts, but the truth is you’re not really saving the amount they claim. If Noel Leeming were to offer a 25% discount off a Sony 65X9000F or KD55A8F TV it only brings the prices of both down to pricing similar to pricing already seen last month for these products.

Other retailers employ questionable processes as well. Harvey Norman will often remove products from their website so they’re not shown on Pricespy.

By doing this it also means customers can’t use their website to attempt to price match their prices at retailers such as Noel Leeming and JB HiFi who will actively match competitors prices. These retailers will normally only accept a website price or written quote as proof of competitor pricing.

If you’re on the lookout for a big ticket item this boxing day make sure you do your research. Just because something is advertised as a sale item does not necessarily mean it’s a bargain!

Lime Scooters launch in the Hutt Valley

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 14-Dec-2018 07:25

Lime scooters have launched in the Hutt Valley overnight. Reports came in of scooters on streets late last night, and the app slowly updated as the scooters came online.

Image result for lime scooter

Geofencing on the map indicates they are only available in the Hutt Valley, and not in Wellington or Porirua. Lime had demonstrated the scooters on the Wellington waterfront last month, however Wellington City Council had indicated they were keen to await the outcome of the trial of bike service Onzo before giving Lime scooters the tick of approval.


There appear to be somewhere in the vicinity of 100 scooters scattered throughout the Hutt Valley from Petone to Upper Hutt. There is good availability around Petone.


To use a Lime scooter simply download the Lime app, register your account and load a credit card against it. Lime scooters cost $1 per ride + 30c per minute.

Locate a scooter on the map, and scan the QR barcode on the scooter with your phone camera to unlock the scooter. To end your ride simply press the end ride button on the app.

If anybody is keen on a $3 promo code to try a Lime scooter you can use promo code RG7WCAE – we’ll both get $3 free credit.

Polycom IP Phone New Zealand time and tone settings

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 9-Sep-2018 20:57

I’ve been a fan of Polycom IP phones for many years, but haven’t used these for deployments for many years in part due to the price of the hardware in New Zealand compared to other brands of phones.

Recently I decided to pull out my IP335 to make some configuration changes and picked up a new VVX410 to play with. I then struggled to find my configuration files detailing the settings for New Zealand times with daylight saving, and for the tone set to match a regular NZ phone and be PTC compliant.

Google wasn’t any help, so I started again! And by publishing it at least I’ll find it when I try Google again in the future. :)

In your Polycom sip.cfg (or similar) file you’ll want to have the following -

NZ time settings (adjust to your own time server if required). This is based on NZ being GMT+12 and DST occurring from 2am on the last Sunday in September until 3am on the 1st Sunday in April.



And for a NZ ring back tone, busy tone, dial tone and message waiting tone. These use levels of –12 which I feel is right, but others may want to adjust this up or down if they feel it’s too quiet or too loud.



Is the TCF mobile blacklist fuelling New Zealand’s latest crime fad?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 8-May-2018 12:26

Stolen or lost mobile phones are a global problem. With the introduction of GSM phones in the ‘90s, the ability to simply move a SIM card between phones started a crime wave because phones were such an easy target. Once somebody had a stolen phone they could simply use it themselves, or on sell it, and the buyer could simply put their SIM card in the phone and use it – in many cases probably oblivious to the history of the phone.

The solution was blacklists of International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers – the serial number of the phone. Operators could block IMEI numbers to prevent devices working on their network, and share the IMEI data between themselves to stop the device working on other networks.

While such blacklists are common place around the world, no global blacklist exists, meaning that devices that are reported lost or stolen in one country can still be used in another country. This has created a global black market for phones, and I’ve seen retailers in Hong Kong selling refurbished “as new” phones that will not work with Hong Kong SIM cards, but will work outside the country.

In 2014 the Telecommunications Carriers Forum (TCF) introduced a mobile blacklist with data shared between New Zealand’s mobile networks – 2degrees, Vodafone, and Spark. Phones that were reported lost or stolen could have their IMEI added to this blacklist which would result in the phone becoming inoperable on any of the networks in New Zealand.

Prior to the introduction of the TCF backed blacklist system, blacklist data was shared between Spark (who were still Telecom at the time) and Vodafone, but not 2degrees.

This fuelled a market in New Zealand for devices that were sold on Trademe and advertised as “only works on 2degrees”, and a number of threads exist here on Geekzone detailing experiences of people people purchasing such devices. Sellers of these devices were clearly aware these devices were blacklisted on the Spark and Vodafone networks, but buyers who didn’t understand the reasons for such a statement were left perplexed when they tried to use their device on Spark or Vodafone and found it didn't work – while it did work fine on 2degrees.

Even when they were sharing IMEI data only with Vodafone, it was well known that Spark were adding IMEI numbers to the blacklist that were not only for stolen or lost devices, but from customers who had abandoned a term contract with a subsidised handset or hire purchase deal. Around this time there was even an online retailer selling new devices that were also clearly marked as “only works on 2degrees” where the source of the handsets was apparently a cancelled corporate contract.

In 2014 when the TCF blacklist was introduced, the TCF made the purpose of the blacklist service pretty clear in its voluntary code -

What it is

The IMEI Blacklisting Code allows consumers to report lost or stolen handsets to their mobile provider so it is blocked and cannot be used on any mobile network, nationwide. Purpose

The purpose of the code is to co-ordinate sharing of IMEIs between mobile networks to discourage theft and disrupt the operation of illegal markets.

Section 5.3 of the code also details what the blacklist should (and should not) be used for -

5.3 Operators shall not Blacklist or un-Blacklist an IMEI in order to gain any commercial advantage or inflict any damage on any other Operator or party.  Blacklisting cannot be used to withhold service or resolve commercial disputes (including bad debt scenarios).  Operators cannot use any contact made by a former customer requesting to Un-Blacklist an IMEI for any “win back” or sales activity.

Over the last few years I’ve seen a number of threads on Geekzone as well as a number of posts on social media from people who have purchased mobile phones both via Trademe and privately, and found that several months later the phone has suddenly stopped working. In all cases the phone has been found to have been blacklisted.

In several cases the buyer had checked the phone using the TCF blacklist  lookup when they purchased it, and saw the device was not blocked. One example of this is detailed below.

tcf imei pg1

So what’s going on?

It would seem that Spark, and possibly 2degrees, are still using the TCF blacklist for purposes outside the scope of the blacklist, ie a bad debt scenario.

A customer purchases a device on a contract or an interest free free deal, sells it to an unwilling buyer who even checks the TCF blacklist and find it passes, pays the contract for a several months, and then suddenly cancels it or decides not to pay it. The device IMEI is added to the TCF blacklist, and the third party buyer of the device suddenly finds their device doesn’t work.

They then often find themselves in a situation where there is very little they can do. The original seller is often nowhere to be found, and the buyer is stuck with an expensive brick that is now useless.

In this example I’m using from Geekzone, the seller did eventually offer a refund. In other cases people have not been so lucky.

tcf imei pg2

The TCF have pushed their blacklist search as a way for a buyer to check their handset and ensure that it’s not blocked – which is fine for checking if a phone has been blocked due to being reported stolen or lost, but it’s very clear now that this search is now pretty limited when it comes to checking the real status of any phone purchased privately. A phone that passes an IMEI check could still be blocked at any time if if the seller of the default defaults on payments.

The TCF themselves do vaguely warn of this on their website but most people would probably not realise under what circumstances this would occur. Most people would assume a second hand phone that passes the check would be safe to buy  - after all that was the whole point of the online tool to allow people to check a device.

tcf imei pg3

All of this poses the question of why the TCF are permitting carriers to use their blacklist for a “bad debt” scenario, something that would seem to be in breach of their code surrounding the use of the blacklist.

When high value products are sold by retailers on finance deals, most use the Government funded Personal Properties Security Register (PPSR) to lodge the sale – with the purpose of the database being to provide a central register of products that may have a financial claim against them. It poses the question of why mobile providers don’t appear to be using this database for high value phones, but instead relying on a blacklist.

It also poses the question of whether carrier has a legal right to effectively block a device that they have not bothered lodged a PPSR security interest over.

Right now buying a second hand phone carries significant risk unless you know exactly where the device came from, and can be certain that no money is owed on the phone. My attempt to check an IMEI with Spark showed they are unwilling to provide this information when asked, as any information relating to the phone or IMEI seems to be regarded as personal information. With no authority to access the account of the person who originally purchased the phone, it’s impossible to get a clear answer from them.

Right now the TCF searchable blacklist is essentially broken – and urgently needs to be fixed. If carriers aren’t going to stop blacklisting devices for bad debts, the TCF urgently need to expand the search to include whether money is owed on a phone.

People are being scammed, and the TCF online search is being used to benefit the scammer and hurt the unwitting buyer. That is simply wrong.



I have received the following response from Spark regarding the issue.

Spark do not blacklist IMEI numbers if a customer has bad debt, or defaults on a payment. The exclusive purpose of blacklisting handsets is when devices are either stolen, lost or involved in fraud.

There are a number of steps Spark take to determine fraud or fraudulent activity before we blacklist a device. Where it is deemed that fraud or fraudulent activity has occurred the case must satisfy the burden of proof and the following must apply:

  • There must be documentary and/or other evidence which prima facie supports the allegation of fraud; and,
  • There must be sufficient evidence to lay a Police complaint.

However, fraudulent activity can take some time to identify – which is why telecommunication companies have up to 120 days under the blacklist policy.

We understand it is very frustrating for individuals who find their phone has been blacklisted months after they have purchased it, but this is unfortunately a risk when purchasing from a second-hand site such as Trade or Facebook Marketplace.

While Spark say that a device will not be blocked due to a bad debt, it’s a grey area between defining a “bad debt” and “fraud”. Somebody buying a device with falsified details and defaulting on a payment would likely be treated as a case of fraud, and the device blocked.

The response from Spark really emphasises the failings of the TCF system. A individual buying a second hand device can have no certainly at all that the device will not be blocked at some point in the future after they have completed the sale, and more importantly after they’ve checked the TCF mindyourmobile site and verified that the device they are wanting to buy is not listed as blocked on the site.

People know they can easily on sell devices to unsuspecting people who will check the blacklist, but have no idea the phone effectively has a security interest registered against it, and more importantly no way of actually knowing this or being able to check this. That's a broken system, and it needs to be fixed.

If a device is purchased on account or as part of an interest free deal and effectively has a security interest registered against it this should be lodged with the PPSR, and the TCF website should be doing a lookup against that to not only show the current status of the IMEI, but also whether security is lodged against it. This would allow any potential buyer to be fully aware of the risks associated with buying the device.

Anybody looking to purchase a second hand phone needs to be fully aware of the risks. You could easily end up with an expensive brick despite through no fault of your own, and then find there is very little you can do when you’re in this situation.

Yet another Mikrotik RouterOS exploit is in the wild

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 24-Apr-2018 06:56

Users of hardware running Mikrotik RouterOS are urged to ensure their devices are secured after news of yet another security vulnerability affecting the platform.

The vulnerability allows a hacker to access the device remotely using Winbox port 8291 and then download the user database file from the router, extract valid usernames and passwords, and then access the device. It affects RouterOS versions 6.29 to 6.43rc3.

This vulnerability follows closely behind two others in the past month that have affected web access to the devices, and the SMB functionality.

All users of RouterOS should immediately ensure their hardware is upgraded to v6.42.1 (current) or  v6.43rc4 (release candidate). It’s important to note the 6.40.x bug fix only release channel does not currently have a fix available. If you are running 6.40.x restricting access via firewall rules to safe IP range(s) is essential to protect your device.

Best security practice is to also to not have a device exposed to the entire Internet on port 80 or 8291 for remote access. If these services are restricted to safe IP range(s) the risks of a device being compromised are reduced.

More information is available on the Mikrotik forums

Android’s broken software update model

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 28-Nov-2017 07:52

Keeping your mobile phone software up to date is more important than ever in light of recent security concerns. Whether you’re a Google Android or Apple iOS fan, one thing everybody has to accept is that Apple’s software update model works a lot better in practice than Google’s.

When Apple release an iOS update it’s immediately available to all users of every device supported by the update. The “supported” life has exceeded 4 years for numerous Apple iPhone and iPad devices.

In the Android world things are a lot more complex. Assuming a manufacturer does decide to make Android updates available (plenty of Android manufacturers don’t make any updates available), the process to get those updates to end users is often long and complex. For many phones there is a requirement for the manufacturer to send software updates to the mobile networks for testing, and once they’ve tested the software it then becomes available from the manufacturers as a software update.

Apple’s model isn’t necessarily perfect – bugs in iOS have caused grief for both networks and end users in the past.

Changes to signalling caused headaches for mobile networks as they become flooded with signalling traffic after an iOS update, and on multiple occasions Apple have introduced WiFi changes that have meant nothing but grief for end users. In such situations it’s not just the odd user or mobile network that’s affected – it’s every user and mobile network.

HTC released this infographic detailing the Android update model a while ago

I saw a post on Geekzone recently asking about software updates for the Sony Xperia Z5. The poster asked whether users of the Spark New Zealand branded Xperia Z5 were ever likely to see the Android 7.1.1 update. As it has been available now for months for non Spark branded handsets, it’s not an unrealistic to expect that it should be available.


The Xperia Z5 is a handset I had previously owned, and after purchasing it in Hong Kong in 2016 I flashed it with the generic Australian firmware. In the year I owned this phone updates were pretty regular, with Android 7.1.1 appearing for it in early July, a week or so after Sony made it available. I was surprised to see that the update was not yet available for the Spark branded Z5.

I upgraded to a Hong Kong sourced Xperia XZ in July, and get regular updates for this including monthly Android security updates that often appear within weeks of being released by Google. I’ve long regarded Sony as being great with updates for all of the Xperia phones I’ve had, and Sony have typically made updates available for 2 years from the release of the phone.

A few days later there was an update after the user contacting Sony -


I reached out to Spark to ask them about the situation and got this response -

"The latest build we have tested for the Z5 is 7.0 – which we approved on 28/02/2017. We don’t have a new build from Sony on the radar at this stage, we've asked them to see if we will get it or not. "

A 3rd party tool called Xperifirm allows Xperia users to download official firmware files from Sony’s servers and install it on their phones. Simply by running Xperifirm you can easily see the latest software release available for any Xperia handset.



As you can see from the list Android 7.1.1 (32.4.A.1.54) is available from a number of carriers. Android 7.0 builds (32.4.A.0.160 and 32.3.A.2.33) are available from the rest. Your phone is tied to the latest release available for your CDA code, so even if a newer update may be available for your device, the CDA code defines the software available to you.

The good news is that reflashing a Xperia handset with a different firmware version (which will change the CDA code) isn’t difficult but does carry some risk. If you don’t fully understand what you’re doing you do run the risk of turning your phone into an expensive brick.

The downside of flashing different firmware onto your device is that it means your phone may not be fully compatible with the network you’re using it on. Despite 3G and 4G being standards, many networks have customised settings for features such as Carrier Aggregation (CA) that may mean your phone won’t be able to take advantage of the CA features offered by your network. In some circumstances it can also result in delays connecting to networks while roaming, or reconnecting to your home network when you come back to New Zealand.

Security updates appear most months for Android. Some of these updates are minor. Some fix critical bugs. By not running the latest available software on your device you’re potentially being exposed to bugs that do exist in the wild and could theoretically result in data or personal information on your device being compromised.

In light of the recent KRACK WiFi exploit, the issue was raised by a number of people as to whether consumer law in New Zealand provided cover for end users. Any product sold in New Zealand must be “fit for purpose” under our Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA).

Manufacturer obligations under the CGA can exceed those that exist under a regular product warranty – even if a product is out of warranty and fails the manufacturer and/or retailer could still be liable if the product is not deemed “fit for purpose” and is within an accepted lifetime of the product.

Consumer guarantees for products

The CGA gives you rights if the products you buy or are supplied by a business are faulty and do not meet the guarantees below under the CGA.

All consumer products must:

  • be of acceptable quality (durable, safe, fit for purpose, free from defects, acceptable in look or finish)
  • be fit for any particular purpose you have told the supplier
  • match a description, sample or model shown to you
  • have good legal title, eg be able to be sold and not have any security interests registered against them
  • be a reasonable price if no price is set
  • arrive on time (within a reasonable time if not agreed) and in good condition
  • have spare parts and repair facilities available (manufacturer is responsible). This does not apply if you are told about limited availability before you buy.

There has been plenty of debate in the online world as to how phones should be treated under the CGA. Most discussion centres around what a reasonable expectation is for the lifespan of a phone. Cases in both Australia and New Zealand have seen warranties on phones move to 2 years as standard – with many people deeming 2 years to be considered a reasonable lifespan for a modern device. It’s a timeframe I agree with.

Google publically state their support policy for current Google branded Nexus and Pixel phones on their support page. They commit to updates for 2 years from the release of their phone, and security updates for 3 years from the release of the phone.

Many devices out there (particularly low end), will never receive updates, meaning the end user could potentially be exposed to data loss or encounter issues that may be fixed in newer releases. Could a lack of software updates for a phone mean that you could lodge a CGA claim over a handset because it’s no longer “fit for purpose”? That’s something there aren’t simple answers for, and something that probably needs to be tested in court.

In the case of the Xperia Z5 it’s hard to decide where fault lies. Software updates for the Z5 exist in many other markets but don’t exist for the Spark branded Z5. Spark are saying they haven’t received any new updates from Sony. Are Sony simply deciding that it’s not worth investing in development of updates for Spark customised firmware in a small market such as New Zealand where it’s unlikely that significant numbers of Z5 handsets were sold? We can really only speculate.

In light of the CGA should all manufacturers of handsets that are sold in New Zealand be required to commit to disclosing  publically their support timeframes for handsets? Google already do this. Should mobile networks be required to publically list all handsets they have sold and the current firmware levels and upgrade status? Maybe.

It shouldn’t be up to an end user to have to search the Internet to work out how to download and flash their handset with foreign software to update it to the latest release available, but right now for many people in New Zealand this is the only way to get the latest updates on their hardware. That’s wrong, and to me shows how broken the update model is.

sbiddle's profile

Steve Biddle
New Zealand

I'm an engineer who loves building solutions to solve problems. I'll also a co-founder of the travel site. 

I also love sharing my views and analysis of the tech world on this blog, along with the odd story about aviation and the travel industry.

My interests and skillset include:

*VoIP (Voice over IP). I work with various brands of hardware and PBX's on a daily basis
  -Asterisk (incl PiaF, FreePBX, Elastix)

  -xDSL deployments

*Structured cabling
  -Home/office cabling
  -Phone & Data

*Computer networking
  -Mikrotik hardware
  -WAN/LAN solutions

*Wireless solutions
  -Motel/Hotel hotspot deployments
  -Outdoor wireless deployments, both small and large scale
  -Temporary wireless deployments
*CCTV solutions
  -Analogue and IP

I'm an #avgeek who loves to travel the world (preferably in seat 1A) and stay in nice hotels.

+My views do no represent my employer. I'm sure they'll be happy to give their own if you ask them.

You can contact me here or by email at