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The Download – Commerce Commission raps Spark for useless charge

Spark wires

 

Commerce Commission pings Spark for useless wire maintenance charge, Google opens cloud region. 

Commerce Commission raps Spark for useless service charge

The Commerce Commission warned Spark after finding the telco charged 113,000 customers for a needless ‘wire maintenance’ charge. The company charged customers for the service even if they used a fibre or fixed wireless connection.

A Commerce Commission investigation into the charge began in 2020 after a customer complained.

The Commission estimates the company collected over $15 million in fees between 2014 and early 2021.

It says it is likely Spark breached the Fair Trading Act by creating the impression they service was suitable for all connection types even though it was not.

Commission Chair, Anna Rawlings says: (Spark) “made misleading representations through invoicing its customers for the service that would be of no use or benefit. This highlights the need for businesses to have the right systems and processes in place, so customers are charged only for the services they need, can use, or benefit from. ”

Spark agreed to undertakings and has refunded around $15 million to date. A further $350,000 has yet to be refunded.

Wire maintenance is, in effect, an insurance for customers. Spark is obliged to fix wire faults outside the home, the extra fee covers times when engineers need to fix connections inside the home.


Google to open New Zealand cloud region

Google says it plans to open its first New Zealand cloud region.

The hyperscale cloud service provider claims the new region will offer local customers the same performance lift and data sovereignty benefits as if it were to build its own New Zealand data centre.

The details are sketchy. We don’t know when it will happen or much else. Nor has Google put a dollar value on its plan.

We do know that Google isn’t planning to build a new data centre. In Google’s language a “cloud region” can be physically located in a facility owned by someone else. There are many suitable local candidates.

Google is the world’s third largest cloud provider. Amazon Web Services, which first established the market, continues to dominate accounting for almost half the market. Microsoft’s Azure is second with around one-third of the market. Google has under 10 percent and is roughly the same size as China’s Alibaba.

Digital Economy minister David Clark described the move as a vote of confidence for the nation’s digital sector. He says the move will give local companies stronger control of their data which will be held in conditions where local laws apply.

Yet RNZ reports that local service provider Catalyst Cloud disputes this. It quotes CEO Doug Dixon who reminds us that overseas technology companies like Google are governed by the laws in their home countries.


Stanners to sit on 2degrees board

Former Vodafone CEO Russell Stanners will sit on the new 2degrees board. He will join Liz Coutts, who will be the chair, and Kathy Meads. Non-executive directors Brett Jolly and Vic McClellan from Macquarie Asset Management make up the rest of the board.


Vodafone agrees to delay switching off TV service to assist Sky

At Stuff, Tom Pullar-Strecker writes about the pickle Vodafone finds itself in because the new Sky TV box is delayed.

Vodafone was planning to close its Vodafone TV service at the end of next month. Vodafone TV uses a fibre-connected box to stream and record Sky and free-to-air TV programmes. It also gives customers a way to use internet delivered services like Netflix.

About 100,000 homes use Vodafone TV.

The most obvious destination for customers who use Vodafone’s set top book was to switch to the Sky box. That was due to be available by now, but isn’t ready. Sky expects to have it later this year.

This week Vodafone said it will extend the life of Vodafone TV for a month, until the end of October, which gives Sky more time to organise its replacement.


Vodafone NB-IoT to connect WaterCare smart meters

WaterCare will use Vodafone’s narrowband IoT network to connect the smart water meters it is now rolling out in Auckland.

The meters collect real time data giving users better insight into their water use. At present meters are manually read on a two month cycle, which means it can take a long time for the home owner to learn there is a water leak. Given the recent droughts in the city, faster updates on a wide scale can make a huge difference.

Vodafone says its narrowband IoT network is the best tool for the job because it uses less electricity and many smart water meters run off batteries. The technology allows metres to run for 10 years which cuts maintenance costs.


In other news…

The Commerce Commission looks set to allow the News Publishers association to collectively negotiate content deals with Facebook and Google for a ten year period. It’s preliminary decision says the benefits of a collective deal are likely to outweigh any harms.

TechCrunch reports mobile phone users in 13 countries spend more than four hours a day in apps. In three countries, Indonesia, Singapore and Brazil, they spend more than five hours in apps.

Amazon is buying iRobot, the company behind the Roomba vacuum cleaner for US$1.7 billion. As Wired explains, this will give the online retail giant data on the size and internal layout of millions of homes worldwide.

Elsewhere at Wired, a worrying look at the security vulnerabilities in the APIs for 5G IoT connections. Researchers found they all have flaws which could potentially allow criminals to take control of IoT networks.

At Reseller News, Rob O’Neill writes about digital transformation changing New Zealand government procurement.

 


The Download 2.0 is a free weekly wrap of New Zealand telecommunications news stories published every Friday.

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RSM clears lower 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi

Hyperfibre

More bandwidth set aside for wireless networks, MyRepublic offers a new way to buy mobile. 

Radio Spectrum Management clears lower 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi

Radio Spectrum Management has chosen to allocate the lower part of the 6 GHz band for low-power use. This, in effect, means Wi-Fi networks.

For now the regulatory agency has put off a decision about the higher part of the band. This squares with practice in many countries overseas and echoes the Australian position.

Technically the band from 5925 to 6425 MHz is limited to devices maximum power of 250 mW. That’s the same as the European standard.

RSM reports the three mobile operators were largely supportive of the move although Spark noted that the decision would be hard to reverse.


MyRepublic mobile plans will be revealing

This week MyRepublic published the details of its previously announced unlimited mobile plans.

The Singapore-based company’s approach to selling mobile in speed tiers will give industry watchers an interesting insight into how consumers value mobile data speeds and the level of demand for faster mobile connections.

MyRepublic customers will be able to choose from one of three speed bands. Like all the other plans, the company’s cheapest plan, the $60 a month Rocket Lite, offers unlimited data but with a maximum speed of 5 Mbps. For $75 a month customers can choose the Rocket plan which runs at 5 Mbps. At the top of the range is the $100 a month Rocket Max plan which offers 20 Mbps.

The company’s marketing talks in terms of the low-end being for “basic browsing” and the high-end offering “Quad HD streaming”.

MyRepublic lists the gaming experience customers will have in each of the tiers. The marketing material describes the Lite plan as “not recommended if you need a quality and stable gaming experience”. This suggests gamers will be the company’s main target market.

The speed tier approach is unique to MyRepublic’s New Zealand operation. In its native Singapore the company’s mobile plans use the conventional data based model. At the time of writing MyRepublic doesn’t offer mobile in Australia.

It will be interesting to see if consumers want to buy mobile by the megabit-per-second and whether they are willing to pay a premium for faster connections.


2degrees adds eSim for business customers, consumer to follow

2degrees business customers can now use electronic Sim cards with a range of Apple, Samsung and Oppo devices. That includes phones, iPads, other tablets and smartwatches.

An eSim offers the same functionality as a SIM card, but doesn’t need a slot. That way devices can have more than one active Sim. You might, say, have one number for work and other for leisure. It’s also useful if you want a local Sim when travelling overseas.

The company says business phone and tablet users can have eSims today, consumer eSims and eSims for watches will be available later this month.


Orcon add Christchurch to Hyperfibre footprint

2degrees’ Orcon unit has begun offering Hyperfibre to customers in central Christchurch. Taryn Hamilton, 2degrees chief consumer officer, says he expects to see “a lot of interest from small and medium businesses looking for faster services, without having to spend megabucks on a service.”

Orcon Hyperfibre prices are $150 a month for the 2 Gbps service, $185 for 4 Gbps and $275 for an 8 Gbps plan.


IDC charts 4th quarter of falling phone demand

IDC says worldwide smartphone shipments dropped 8.7 percent in the second quarter compared with the same period a year earlier. It marks the fourth consecutive quarter of falling demand and was lower than had been forecast.

Research director Nabila Popal says the earlier fall in demand was down to supply problems, but now it is demand that is falling.

She says “Roaring inflation and economic uncertainty has dampened consumer spending and increased inventory across all regions. OEMs have cut back orders for the rest of the year with Chinese vendors making the biggest cuts as their largest market continues to struggle.”

IDC expects to see demand start to pick up in some regions towards the end of the year.

Samsung remains the most popular phone brand with a 21.8 percent share of units. Apple is next with a 15.6 percent share.


DCI Data Centres breaks ground on Auckland’s North Shore

Dr David Clark, Minister for the Digital Economy and Communications, was due to break the ground on DCI’s North Shore data centre this Friday morning as The Download Weekly was preparing to be published.

The $400 million AKL02 data centre will be one of the largest in the country.

DCI is an Australian-based data centre business and is a Brookfield Asset Management portfolio company.


Chile-Australia Humboldt cable issues request for proposal

Chile has moved closer to building the 15,000km Humboldt cable which will link Valparaiso and Sydney Australia with branches connecting to Invercargill, Easter Island, Antartica and other destinations. It would be the first cable to connect South America with Oceania.

The Chilean government-owned infrastructure fund Desarrollo Pais and International Connectivity Services, part of the Hawaiki Group, now owned by Singapore’s BW Digital have issued requests for proposals.

BW Digital CEO Remi Galasso says the cable will be a critical piece of infrastructure for South America.

The Humboldt cable is due to be ready by late 2025 or early 2026.


BNZ offers contactless payments on Android phones

BNZ has launched what it says is New Zealand’s first contactless terminal phone app. BNZ Pay works on an Android phone allowing small traders to take contactless payments. There is no monthly fee for the service for BNZ bank customers until January 2024. From then it will cost $10 a month, but users are only charged if they use the app during the month.


In other news…

Chorus’s Hyperfibre brand will feature in a sponsorship deal the fibre company signed with New Zealand Esports. This month sees the start of the first NZ Esports Hyperfibre league.

Spark is using the 5G Street Museum to showcase New Zealand creative talent and its mobile technology.

Facebook’s parent company Meta reported its first ever revenue drop. Revenue, at $US28.8 billion, was down one percent from the year earlier. Profit dropped 36 percent from $10.4 billion to $6.7 billion. The company says it was hit by falling ad sales and competition from TikTok, but failed to mention the effect of a small change to Apple’s iOS setting which allows people to avoid Facebook tracking. In the event, most users choose not to hand Facebook data and that looks set to cost Meta $10 billion a year.

Chip-maker Intel turned in a disappointing second quarter result with revenue down 22 percent on a year earlier. The company made a loss, during the same period last year it made $5 billion profit. The news saw investors bail out of the company, the share price fell by 11 percent. Moreover, Intel’s market capitalisation fell behind that of its rival AMD. I discussed the Intel story and other stories earlier in the week on the NZ Tech Podcast.


The Download 2.0 is a free weekly wrap of New Zealand telecommunications news stories published every Friday.

All it requires is an email address. Your address is only used to send out the newsletter. I won’t sell it to anyone.

I’m not collecting the data for anything other than sending out the newsletter. Your name isn’t going to be sold anywhere.

 

Subscribe to The Download Weekly

* indicates required

NZ Tech Podcast – Vodafone MVNO, Intel chip woes

NZ tech Podcast

 

I’m back on the NZ Tech Podcast with Paul Spain. It’s a busy episode and we get through a lot of material.

This week we discuss Vodafone’s MVNO reboot and MyRepublic’s innovative mobile plans, how New Zealand’s Invisible Urban Charging looks to install 6000+ EV chargers in Florida, Intel’s poor financial result and outlook, a creator project from Nanogirl and put Indonesia’s moves to stop access to key internet services into a wider perspective.

Source: Vodafone virtual network play, 275m people lose key internet services, Intel in pain.

Chromebook demand halves, tablets flat, PCs wobble

Chromebook makers shipped 6 million devices in the second quarter of 2022 down from 12.3 million the same time a year ago. The numbers come from IDC’s mobility and consumer device tracker.

Chromebooks enjoyed a short-lived boom in demand when the world first went into lockdown. Schools and governments in the US and Europe sent the devices home with students as learning temporarily shifted online.

By the third quarter of last year that surge in sales was over. At that time shipments dropped by close to a third.

Despite the rapid recent decline, Chromebook shipments remain comfortably above pre-Covid levels and look set to stay there. They are popular in education, although less so in New Zealand than elsewhere.

Tablets performed better than expected

Tablets were the other devices to gain from remote learning and working. They were seen as a low cost alternative to PCs.

IDC says the tablet market performed better than expected in the recent quarter. Shipments were flat, with a shade over 40 million devices shipped in the quarter.

Apple’s iPad remains the most popular table. It accounts for 31 percent of the market. Samsung has an 18 percent market. Amazon, which barely features in the New Zealand market, was in third place with Lenovo and Huawei making up the top five.

PCs doing it tough

In comparison IDC reports PC shipments tumbled 15 percent in the same quarter. Like Chromebook and tablets, PC shipments soared during the early stage of the Covid pandemic then fell back as markets reached saturation. Supply chain problems, high oil prices and the knock on effect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are other reasons IDC says are behind falling demand.

As with tablets and Chromebooks, PC demand remains above pre-Covid levels. IDC says much of the remaining demand for PCs is from business, widespread uncertainty means consumers are less willing to buy new computers at the moment.

Tower sales revive shared infrastructure question

There is nothing unusual about Spark and Vodafone deciding to sell their cell tower networks. Telcos around the world have done the same thing. If anything the two New Zealand carriers were late to the party.

Yet the move throws up an interesting question. Not many years ago telcos regarded their mobile phone tower networks as strategic assets.

One of the justifications for the sales is that Spark and Vodafone no longer think their tower networks are that important. Not every telco thinks that way. There are telcos worldwide who decided not to sell their tower networks.

2degrees CEO Mark Callander says his company has no immediate plans to sell its network and questions the rationale. He could yet be proved right.

Widespread mobile coverage

Yet you can see how the towers’ sellers might arrive at their position. All three mobile networks now cover all the main places customers need coverage. No one network has a serious advantage over its rivals.

Thanks to the Rural Connectivity Group joint venture between the three carriers, the gaps in rural coverage are being filled in. There are places and state highways where coverage is needed, but the demand is not high enough for a normal commercial tower.

In those places towers are being built with government subsidies; the infrastructure is shared by the three carriers. Other operators are able to rent space on these towers.

Shared infrastructure works

Shared mobile infrastructure works. And that’s the nub of the interesting question. If tower networks are no longer strategic, why parcel them into two separate TowerCos? Would it not make sense to share the infrastructure in the same way that works well in rural New Zealand?

If the two, or even three, mobile companies had a single tower network, they could reduce operating costs. The long-term gain to the carriers would be far greater than the short-term sugar rush of a sale freeing up capital.

This would be even more the case in the 5G era when, as new spectrum becomes available at higher frequencies, tower networks need to become denser. A single nationwide network of dense tower coverage makes sense. It would be efficient. After all, the RCG is living proof that sharing resources can work.

Not a new idea

We’ve been here before. There was a discarded plan to offer an open access nationwide network of cell towers, something similar to the way Chorus and the fibre companies offer open access.

It wouldn’t hand over market share to smaller players in the way the UFB model has because mobile networks need spectrum and the majority of useful spectrum remains in the hands of the mobile carriers.

That plan was on offer a handful of years ago and was rejected by the carriers, at least in part, because they argued the tower networks were strategic assets. With that out the way it could be time to dust those plans down and give them a second look.

Vodafone reboots MVNO with MyRepublic deal

Vodafone reboots MVNO with MyRepublic deal

Vodafone has breathed life back into New Zealand’s limp mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) sector. It will operate as part of the company’s Vodafone Infrastructure Partners wholesale division.

The first partner is MyRepublic. The Singapore-owned ISP says it plans to offer what it calls ’truly unlimited” mobile plans from next month.

For now the MyRepublic website teases customers saying: “On our unlimited data plans, you just have one easy choice to consider, fast, faster or fastest”. Prices will start at $60 a month and all plans include unlimited calls and texts in Australia and New Zealand.

Vodafone wholesale and infrastructure director Tony Baird says the company’s Vodafone Infrastructure Partners unit operates as a separate wholesale business. He says the MVNO move will give consumers more options when it comes to pricing and plans and will unlock the “nascent wholesale mobile market in New Zealand.”

Unlike many other markets New Zealand has never had a vibrant MVNO sector. The total sum of non-main carrier business has hovered at around one percent of the market. Overseas it can be a third or more.

New Zealand’s biggest MVNO is run by companies in what was the Vocus group. The merger with 2degrees mesns the existing deal is likely to unravel.

Often MVNOs are run by well known consumer brands. Here, the most visible remaining example of that would be the Warehouse’s mobile operation which runs on the 2degrees network.

Baird says: “It’s our belief that the conditions are now right to help NZ grow its MVNO market, and Vodafone will work with partners that can complement our brand and help us increase our network utilisation”.


Smaller broadband retailers winning as market grows

IDC’s 2022 New Zealand Telecommunications Competitive Landscape report says the telco market grew 1.7 percent in the year to March 2022. The research company says the move to endless data mobile plans and the continuing uptake of fibre broadband are the main growth drivers.

The year saw smaller broadband retailers such as Trustpower and Contact Energy win 2.9 percent of the market from the larger telcos.

Monica Collier, IDC’s associate research director, telecommunications says there has been a shift towards the energy retailer who now bundle broadband with electricity. In addition to Trustpower and Contact Energy, she says smaller energy retailers such as Electric Kiwi and Nova Energy have added broadband services.

She says: “While their market shares are modest, they still contribute to the shift in connections away from the incumbents.”

The key is that energy retailers don’t need to make a profit from broadband. Collier says this allows them to offer compelling bundles and deals to their customers. “”For example, one energy retailer continues its successful ‘joining rewards’ for broadband sign ups that include fridges, TVs, and washing machines. Another offers Fibre 300 for a relatively low $59.99 per month when bundled with power and gas services”.

Elsewhere IDC reports a move by mobile customers to postpaid plans with the number of connections increasing 5.5 percent in the year as consumers switch to endless data plans. As a result prepay connections dropped during the year.


InternetNZ goes outside sector for new CEO

InternetNZ has chosen outside Vivien Maidaborn to replace Jordan Carter as the organisation’s CEO. Maidaborn has recently worked in Vietnam for Unicef and has previously been CEO of community organisations.

Joy Liddicoat, InternetNZ president says the appointment comes at a pivotal time for the organisation with the new .nz registry due, its commitment to becoming a Te Tiriti o Waitangi-centric organisation, and its strong focus on working for a safe internet for everyone in Aotearoa.


Cert NZ works with Catalyst for Samba update

Cert NZ is working with Catalyst and the open-source community to update the Samba domain control software suite. Samba is free networking protocol used for file and printer services and a widely used alternative to Microsoft’s Windows active directory.

In other news…

Facebook parent company Meta reported its first ever revenue drop. The company’s second quarter revenue was US$28.8 billion, that’s down almost one percent from a year earlier and slightly behind market expectations.

Yet, the company managed to grow its average active user base from 1.96 billion to 1.97 billion at a time the market expected a fall. Much of the changing fortunes stems from Apple’s move allowing iPhone users to decide if they allow Facebook to track their online activity. In the event, many Apple users decided they don’t want Facebook to track them.